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Dog Bites and North Carolina Dog Laws

Often referred to as "man's best friend," dogs sometimes revert to their wolf-like nature and attack their human friends. When you're bitten or otherwise injured by a dog, you may be able to sue for damages. Unlike some other states that have a "one bite" rule, North Carolina holds dog owners strictly liable for bites and other injuries caused by their furry friends. In other words, you don't have to prove that the owner was negligent as long as their dog caused a "severe injury" (as defined by statute).

If your damages exceed $25,000, then you'll file your claim in Superior Court; all other claims are filed in District Court (generally located in the same courthouse in each county). Most civil claims are settled before going to trial, but working with an attorney is usually in your best interests. General information about civil and criminal liability for dog bites in North Carolina is summarized in the sections below.

North Carolina Dog Laws at a Glance

When you've been attacked or otherwise injured by someone's pet, you don't have time to wade through dense legal texts. You just want to know how to handle the situation, whether it's notifying authorities or filing an injury claim. That's why we've provided the following, plain-English summary of the law.


North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 67, Section 67-4.4

Civil Liability for Dog Bites

Owners are held strictly liable for bites and other injuries caused by their dog if:

  • The dog is considered a dangerous dog as defined by state law; and
  • The dog injured another party or destroyed their personal property.
Criminal Provisions for Dangerous Dogs

It's illegal for an owner to:

  • Leave a dangerous dog unattended on the owner's real property unless the dog is confined indoors, in a securely enclosed and locked pen, or in another structure designed to restrain the dog; or
  • Permit a dangerous dog to go beyond the owner's real property unless the dog is leashed and muzzled or is otherwise securely restrained and muzzled.

Violation of these laws may be charged as a Class 3 misdemeanor (up to 20 days in jail and a $200 fine).

Exceptions to Liability for Dog Bites

Owner's liability for dog bites doesn't apply to:

  1. A dog being used by a law enforcement officer to carry out the law enforcement officer's official duties;
  2. A dog being used in a lawful hunt;
  3. A dog where the injury was sustained by a domestic animal while the dog was working as a hunting dog, herding dog, or predator control dog on the property of its owner, and the injury was to a type of domestic animal appropriate to the work of the dog; or
  4. A dog where the injury was sustained by a person who, at the time of the injury, was committing a willful trespass or other tort, was tormenting, abusing, or assaulting the dog, or was committing or attempting to commit a crime.
Statutory Definition of "Potentially Dangerous Dog"

A dog that the person or Board designated by the county or municipal authority responsible for animal control determines to have:

  1. Inflicted a bite on a person that resulted in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations or required cosmetic surgery or hospitalization; or
  2. Killed or inflicted severe injury upon a domestic animal when not on the owner's real property; or
  3. Approached a person when not on the owner's property in a vicious or terrorizing manner in an apparent attitude of attack.
Statutory Definition of "Dangerous Dog"

A dog that, without provocation, has killed or inflicted severe injury* on a person.

*Severe injury means any physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations or required cosmetic surgery or hospitalization.

Time Limit for Filing Claim

3 years (North Carolina Civil Statute of Limitations)

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Research the Law

  • North Carolina Code - FindLaw's hosted version of North Carolina's General Statutes and Constitution.
  • North Carolina Laws - FindLaw's summaries of select North Carolina laws, including criminal, injury, employment, family, and small business laws.

Related Resources

Get Professional Legal Help With Your Questions About North Carolina Dog Laws

Dogs and other domestic animals not known to be vicious can sometimes lash out and bite people, causing injury. But regardless of whether the owner knew (or should have known) that the dog was dangerous, they're strictly liable for injuries. Don't leave it up to chance; contact an experienced North Carolina animal bites attorney today.

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