A dog bite victim in North Carolina can recover compensation under the doctrines of negligence, the limited dog bite statute, scienter, and intentional tort.


North_Carolina_RaleighA dog bite victim in North Carolina can recover compensation under the doctrines of negligence, scienter (the "vicious propensity rule"), and intentional tort. There also is a limited dog bite statute that codifies the doctrine of negligence per se, so this is actually a "one bite state."


North Carolina permits a dog bite victim to recover compensation on the ground of negligence. Negligence is the lack of ordinary care; that is, the absence of the kind of care a reasonably prudent and careful person would exercise in similar circumstances. If a person's conduct in a given circumstance doesn't measure up to the conduct of an ordinarily prudent and careful person, then that person is negligent. For example, letting a stray dog into a day care center is negligence. See Negligence.

“[N]ot all actions seeking recovery for damage caused by a domestic animal need involve the vicious propensity rule....The owner of a domestic animal is chargeable with knowledge of the general propensities of certain animals and he must exercise due care to prevent injury from reasonably anticipated conduct." Griner v. Smith, 43 N.C. App. 400, 407, 259 S.E.2d 383, 388 (1979). In Griner, the owners of a Rottweiler which previously had not behaved viciously toward people was nevertheless held liable under the doctrine of negligence, because they should have known the "general propensities" of Rottweilers to be territorial, aggressive and unpredictable.

In Williams v. Tysinger, 328 N.C. 55, 399 S.E.2d 108 (1991), the owner of a horse which did not previously act viciously was held liable for negligence after the horse kicked a young child in the head. The court said that liability was justified "not [because of] the wrongful keeping of a vicious animal; rather ... encouraging two young children to play with a horse after being warned by the children's mother that they had no familiarity with horses or any other large animals." Id. at 60, 399 S.E.2d at 111. The court in Hill v. Williams, 144 N.C. App. 45, 547 S.E.2d 472, rev. denied, 354 N.C. 217, 557 S.E.2d 531 (2001), approved the application of the rule in Williams to dog bite cases.

Statutory liability

The owner of a dog in this state will be strictly liable for canine-inflicted injuries to a human being or to property if he intentionally, knowingly, and willfully violates the state's prohibition against dogs running at large. Contained in sec. 67-12, the prohibition applies only if the dog is more than 6 months old and is running at large in the night, while unaccompanied by the owner or "some member of the owner's family, or some other person."

If the running at large prohibition is not violated, there can be strict liability if the dog has killed or inflicted severe injury on a person, was previously declared to be a "potentially dangerous dog" because of its conduct, or was kept or used for dog fighting. A dog can be declared "potentially dangerous" if it has terrorized a person while it was off its owner's property, killed or inflicted severe injury on any domestic animal while the dog was off its owner's property, or inflicted a bite on a person that resulted in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations or required cosmetic surgery or hospitalization.

The North Carolina dog bite statute is spread over several laws, as follows:

§ 67-12. Permitting dogs to run at large at night; penalty; liability for damage.

No person shall allow his dog over six months old to run at large in the nighttime unaccompanied by the owner or by some member of the owner's family, or some other person by the owner's permission. Any person intentionally, knowingly, and willfully violating this section shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor, and shall also be liable in damages to any person injured or suffering loss to his property or chattels. (1919, c. 116, s. 5; C.S., s. 1680; 1993, c. 539, s. 534; 1994, Ex. Sess., c. 24, s. 14(c).)

§ 67-4.4. Strict liability.

The owner of a dangerous dog shall be strictly liable in civil damages for any injuries or property damage the dog inflicts upon a person, his property, or another animal. (1989 (Reg. Sess., 1990), c. 1023.)

§ 67-4.1. Definitions and procedures.

(a) As used in this Article, unless the context clearly requires otherwise and except as modified in subsection (b) of this section, the term:

(1) "Dangerous dog" means

a. A dog that:

1. Without provocation has killed or inflicted severe injury on a person; or

2. Is determined by the person or Board designated by the county or municipal authority responsible for animal control to be potentially dangerous because the dog has engaged in one or more of the behaviors listed in subdivision (2) of this subsection.

b. Any dog owned or harbored primarily or in part for the purpose of dog fighting, or any dog trained for dog fighting.

(2) "Potentially dangerous dog" means a dog that the person or Board designated by the county or municipal authority responsible for animal control determines to have:

a. Inflicted a bite on a person that resulted in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations or required cosmetic surgery or hospitalization; or

b. Killed or inflicted severe injury upon a domestic animal when not on the owner's real property; or

c. Approached a person when not on the owner's property in a vicious or terrorizing manner in an apparent attitude of attack.

(3) "Owner" means any person or legal entity that has a possessory property right in a dog.

(4) "Owner's real property" means any real property owned or leased by the owner of the dog, but does not include any public right-of-way or a common area of a condominium, apartment complex, or townhouse development.

(5) "Severe injury" means any physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations or required cosmetic surgery or hospitalization.

(b) The provisions of this Article do not 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 or damage inflicted by the dog 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, or under the control of, its owner or keeper, and the damage or injury was to a species or type of domestic animal appropriate to the work of the dog; or

(4) A dog where the injury inflicted by the dog 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, had tormented, abused, or assaulted the dog, or was committing or attempting to commit a crime.

(c) The county or municipal authority responsible for animal control shall designate a person or a Board to be responsible for determining when a dog is a "potentially dangerous dog" and shall designate a separate Board to hear any appeal. The person or Board making the determination that a dog is a "potentially dangerous dog" must notify the owner in writing, giving the reasons for the determination, before the dog may be considered potentially dangerous under this Article. The owner may appeal the determination by filing written objections with the appellate Board within three days. The appellate Board shall schedule a hearing within 10 days of the filing of the objections. Any appeal from the final decision of such appellate Board shall be taken to the superior court by filing notice of appeal and a petition for review within 10 days of the final decision of the appellate Board. Appeals from rulings of the appellate Board shall be heard in the superior court division. The appeal shall be heard de novo before a superior court judge sitting in the county in which the appellate Board whose ruling is being appealed is located. (1989 (Reg. Sess., 1990), c. 1023.)


The traditional doctrine that makes a person liable for harm inflicted by a domestic animal is referred to as "scienter" (the Latin word for "knowingly"), "common law strict liability," and "the one bite rule." As it applies to dog bites, this doctrine holds that a victim can recover compensation from the owner, harborer or keeper of a dog if (a) the dog previously bit a person or acted like it wanted to, and (b) the defendant was aware of the dog's previous conduct. If either of those conditions are not met, however, the victim cannot employ this doctrine as a ground for recovery. See The One Bite Rule.

The one bite rule is the foundation of dog bite law. It exists in every state. The majority of American states have supplemented it with statutes that make dog owners responsible for all bites including the first one. These so-called "dog bite statutes" sometimes extend to people other than dog owners and injuries other than dog bites. Furthermore, the majority of states impose liability on dog owners and others under a variety of other legal doctrines, including negligence, premises liability, nuisance, and negligence per se for a violation of an animal control law such as a leash law, a law prohibiting dogs from being at large, or a law prohibiting dogs from trespassing. An emerging ground for liability is the dog owner's failure to stop a dog attack after it has begun. If the one bite rule or any other doctrine works against a victim, therefore, another might support his claim for compensation. See generally Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA.




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