Gregory Coogan v. Cherryl Nelson et al.: Proving Dog Owner Knowledge of Vicious Tendencies

Asheville, North Carolina personal injury lawyers know how complex an animal attack case can be. While there is often no question that a defendant’s dog (or other domestic animal) caused harm to the plaintiff, North Carolina law provides three basic ways in which a person can be liable for injuries caused by his or her dog. The first method of proving liability in a dog bite case is under a theory of negligence. Basically, the owner of the dog owed a duty of care to the injured plaintiff, and the dog owner breached his or her duty of care. This is the same negligence standard used in most personal injury cases in the Carolinas.

angry-dog.jpgThe second way in which your dog bite lawyer could prove a case is through the North Carolina dog bite statute (Chapter 67 of the North Carolina Code). If the owner engages in certain dangerous behaviors such as allowing his dogs to run free at night or using a dog unlawfully in a hunt, he may be liable under this statute.

The third way to prove a dog bite case in North Carolina involves the issue of whether the owner of the dog knew or had reason to know that his or her dog had dangerous tendencies. This is what lawyers typically refer to as the “every dog gets one bite rule.” What this means is that if you own a dog, and that dog has never bitten anyone, you should have no reason to know your dog is likely to bite someone. However, once your dog has bitten someone, you should know that your dog has such tendencies, and you must take appropriate precautions to prevent your dog from biting other people. With this theory of proof, your personal injury lawyer must present evidence that the defendant knew or had reason to know that his or her dog was likely to bite another person.

In a recent case, Gregory Coogan v. Cherryl Nelson et al., the Rhode Island Supreme Court looked at the issue of whether a dog owner was liable for injuries to a UPS driver. Gregory Coogan arrived on the defendant’s property, parked his truck, sounded the horn, and walked up to the front door. He rang the doorbell, and the defendant opened her door and took the package. She had two large dogs beside her. One was a German Shepherd and the other was a Rat Terrier. He dogs took off after Coogan and bit him on the arm. Coogan tried to defend himself by hitting the dogs with his electronic signature pad.

Coogan filed a lawsuit against Cherryl Nelson. Nelson filed a motion for summary judgment, in which she asserted that the plaintiff failed to prove defendant had any knowledge that her dogs had vicious tenancies. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the lawsuit was dismissed.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island ruled that because the plaintiff had presented evidence in the form of an affidavit that one of the defendant’s dogs had been involved in a prior dog bite incident, a finder of fact (judge or jury) could find that the defendant’s dogs had violent tendencies. Thus, the trial court’s order was reversed.

If you have been injured in North Carolina, contact the Lee Law Offices in Asheville at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Gregory Coogan v. Cherryl Nelson et al., June 16, 2014 Rhode Island Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:

Keeping Children “Dog Bite Free” This Summer, June 11, 2013, South Carolina Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

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