Dog Bites are Increasingly a Problem in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
Attorney Gary Mauney covers the law on dog bites resulting in personal injury
The Charlotte news is full of recent reports about dog bites injuring children, runners, and unsuspecting neighbors. Just a couple of examples show how dangerous an intemperate and uncontrolled dog can be. Charlotte personal injury attorney Gary Mauney reports on recent dog bite incidents in Mecklenburg County, and outlines the present state of North Carolina law for dog bite victims. Unfortunately, dog bites are all too common in Charlotte. Here are some things you should know if you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog.
Recent Dog Bites in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in the News
A 9-year-old girl is recovering after her family said she was attacked by a pit bull last December while riding her bike in a northwest Charlotte neighborhood. Mary Simpson told Channel 9 that her granddaughter, Harmoni, and a friend, were riding their bikes near their home when a pit bull pulled Harmoni off her bike and attacked her. Simpson said Harmoni’s friend ran and flagged down neighbor Robert Taylor, who used a trash can and a bicycle to beat the dog off the girl. “When I got down here, the little girl was laying in the street with the dog clamped to her head," Taylor said. Harmoni was seriously hurt and taken to Levine Children’s Hospital. Her family said she is recovering, but she lost a lot of blood during the attack.
Just over a year ago, according to The Charlotte Observer, seven children were bitten on a Monday afternoon after a stray male pit bull got into a southeast Charlotte elementary school, went "on a rampage," and began "chasing" students as they fled for cover. All seven suffered minor injuries, officials said. The incident happened at Lansdowne Elementary School, which is located between Providence and Sardis roads.
Investigators said the stray dog first came into the school’s playground area while the children were outside playing. School staff escorted children into the school as a precaution. However, the dog managed to get inside the school, officials said. “Some of the children were frightened and were reacting by running and making noise,” Animal Care and Control said in a statement. “The canine then became overstimulated by this reaction and began to jump on and bite some of the children.”
You May have a Case Against the Owner of the Dog that Bit You
These are alarming stories. If you or a loved one have been bitten and injured by a dog, you need to notify the police and go to the doctor (the dog could have rabies, etc.). You also may have a court case against the dog's owner. Dog bites frequently result in large medical bills, terrible wounds, and the need for plastic surgery to reduce scarring. In 2019, there were 48 dog bite fatalities in the United States (33 of these were the result of Pit Bulls). In North Carolina, if you own a breed of dog that has an aggressive temperament or that is known as a breed with a propensity to bite, like a Pit Bull, you face more potential liability than the owner of a more docile breed, such as a Golden Retriever.
The Common Law Rules on Dog Bite Negligence Liability in North Carolina
The leading case on dog bit law in North Carolina is Griner v. Smith, 43 N.C. App. 400, 259 S.E.2d 383 (1979). In Griner, the court considered whether the so-called “one-bite rule” always applies to a dog bite situation. The one-bite rule is self-explanatory; it means that an owner of a dog that is unaware of his or her animal’s propensity or likelihood to bite is not considered negligent and liable for injuries the first time the owner's dog bites someone. The logic behind the law is that the dog’s bite was not “reasonably foreseeable.”
But the North Carolina Court of Appeals, in Griner, made the specific point that if you own a breed of dog with a propensity to bite or engage in aggressive behavior, the “one-bite rule” will not protect you. In Griner, the Court said: “The owner of a domestic animal is chargeable with knowledge of the general propensities of certain animals [e.g., a Pit Bull or a Rottweiler] and he must exercise due care to prevent injury from reasonably anticipated conduct. Therefore, not all actions seeking recovery for damage caused by a domestic animal need involve the vicious propensity rule.”
What the Griner case means is that if you own a Pit-Bull or a Rottweiler, you must take reasonable steps to ensure that your dog is not put in a position where it can bite someone. If the dog is kept in a yard, you will need a secure fence. If you are walking your dog, the dog should be secured with a leash. If you have visitors over for dinner, the dog needs to be reasonably restrained in some way while they are inside your house. Since it can be “reasonably anticipated” that a Pit Bull or Rottweiler might be aggressive, owners of these dogs do not get the “benefit of the doubt” that the one-bite rule provides other types of dog owners.
North Carolina Dog Bite Statutes that Apply In Limited Circumstances
The owner of a dog in North Carolina will also be held strictly (automatically) liable for canine-inflicted injuries to a human being or to "chattels" (the legal term for "property") if the owner “intentionally, knowingly, and willfully” violates the state's prohibition against dogs running at large per Section 67-12 of the North Carolina General Statutes. Section 67-12 applies only to a dog more than 6 months old, running at large in the night, unaccompanied by the owner or "some member of the owner's family, or some other person." If Section 67-12 does not apply, there may also be strict liability under Section 67-4.4 of the N.C. General Statutes. Section 67-4.4 applies if the injuries were inflicted by a "dangerous dog" as defined by Section 67-4.1(a)(1). A "dangerous dog" is one that (a) previously killed or injured people or (b) previously was officially declared to be dangerous or potentially dangerous.
Looking for Insurance That Might Cover the Liability
One of the key issues that comes up in a dog bite case is the ability of the dog owner to fund or pay a settlement or a court judgment. One of the first things an attorney will do is to look for any insurance coverage that might apply, particularly insurance owned by the dog owner and/or the owner of a home or auto where the injury occurred. Take. note:
· Many homeowner's policies will cover the costs of an injury from a dog bite. Bites that take place in the dog owner's car may also be covered by an automobile policy. Typical liability policies may offer from $100,000 to $300,000 worth of coverage. Some home or automobile owners will also have what is known as an “Umbrella Policy.” An Umbrella Policy adds additional coverage, sometimes more than $1,000,000, over the liability limits of a home or auto owner’s policy. As you can see, finding out whether the dog owner has insurance is very important when dealing with a serious dog bite injury. (This is a key reason to hire an attorney.)
· Note that some insurance companies decline to cover certain breeds that have an acknowledged propensity to bite, such as Pit Bulls or Rottweilers.
· If the dog owner has liability insurance, it is likely that the insurance company will be paying for the owner's defense in any lawsuit you bring.
What Damages Can you Expect to Recover as Compensation for Your Injuries?
· Your medical bills;
· Lost income, both from treating the immediate injury and from any future lost income should you become incapacitated;
· Pain and suffering, including a new fear of dogs, especially in children who may continue to have nightmares after the attack;
· Property damage, if any; and,
· Loss of consortium, which means that the injury somehow damaged your relationship with your spouse or family.
If you have Suffered an Injury from a Dog Bite, contact Mauney PLLC for a Free Confidential Consultation
Charlotte attorney Gary Mauney has 25 years of experience helping victims of negligence. If you have been injured, keep three things in mind: (1) Do not speak to any representative of the dog owner's insurance company without first asking your attorney whether it is wise to do so; (2) Take photographs of everything you can that relates to the bite, such as your injury and the dog in question; (3) Contact an attorney as soon as possible so the attorney can immediately start gathering the evidence you will need to prove your legal claim; (4) Do not let time go by, because state statutes of limitation may limit the time you have to sue.
Contact attorney Gary Mauney at Mauney PLLC for a free and confidential consultation about your legal rights. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 704/945-7185.