In North Carolina, dog bite injuries occur much more frequently than one might expect. One of the main reasons for dog or other animal bite cases is due to owners’ negligence in keeping others safe from dangerous animals.
According to a recent news article from the Fayetteville Observer, Cumberland County commissioners gave preliminary approval to a new civil ordinance, which will require owners of a dog that bites someone severe enough to require medical attention to pay a fine of $500. This law passed six to one.
The sole county commissioner who voted in opposition to the new dog bite ordinance said he was concerned with one provision of the new law, which gives the director of Cumberland County Animal Control authority to revoke a dog owner’s permit to own a dog immediately, as opposed to suspending the permit pending a hearing to be held within 30 days of an alleged violation. While dog owners accused of a violation will still be given an opportunity to appeal the revocation, he fears this still constitutes a due process violation.
As our Charlotte personal injury attorneys can explain, the Due Process clause of the Constitution typically requires a person be given notice and opportunity to be heard prior to having their property be subject to taking by a government actor. This is known as procedural due process. The state does have an ability to take immediate action when it is doing so in a narrowly tailored manner to protect the public from a legitimate safety threat.
As for this particular ordinance, the fine will go into effect immediately, but because it was not passed unanimously, the portion pertaining to permit revocation will have to be discussed, and a new vote will be held next month before it can become law.
One supporter of the new law was hoping the revocation would go into effect, because his son’s pet beagle was recently bitten by someone’s pit bull. First, it should be noted, this is a county ordinance, which only affects the county in which it was enacted. It is also important to understand, despite people’s requests to treat their pets as family members for the purpose of personal injury cases, a pet is still considered personal property, and an owner will generally only be able to be compensated for the monetary value of replacing the animal. While this is often heartbreaking, it has been this way for a long time.
For this reason, most North Carolina dog bite injury cases deal with injury or death of human victims. In the context of these cases, one of the most crucial aspects is proving owner knew his or her dog had a propensity to injure a victim. In other words, if an owner has a dog that is normally considered a friendly breed, such as a pug, and it bites someone, it may be difficult to know owner knew this dog had a propensity to injury someone. Therefore, it may not be negligence the first time a dog bites someone. This is often taught in law school as the “every dog gets one free bite rule.”
However, if plaintiff can prove this particular dog bit someone else in the past, and owner knew about it, it may be enough to prove negligence. It may not be necessary to prove this if a dog is known to be of a particularly dangerous breed, such as an American Pit Bull or Rottweiler, or if a dog has been trained as an attack dog.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Dog-bite law gets preliminary approval in Cumberland County, Apr. 21, 2015, Fayetteville Observer
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Monfore v. Phillips – $1M Medical Malpractice Verdict Affirmed, Feb. 21, 2015, Charlotte Personal Injury Lawyer Blog