When it comes to dog bites and other animal attacks, North Carolina follows a theory of strict liability. What this means is that it does not matter whether the dog owner or controller used reasonable care to prevent the dog from injuring someone else. It also does not matter whether the dog had shown any prior evidence of violent tendencies.
However, claims for negligence require plaintiff to prove the dog owner failed to act with reasonable care.
In some cases, it’s not even necessary to prove the dog bit the other person. For example, if the dog lunges at someone and the person falls and is injured, that person may seek to hold the dog owner liable for damages, even if the dog never actually bit the person or otherwise came in contact with them.
This was the sort of situation in a recent case before the North Carolina Court of Appeals. According to court records, plaintiff went to take out his trash and was standing in his driveway when he heard his neighbor’s chihuahua. This did not startle him, at least until he heard a second bark, which he did not immediately recognize. He turned and saw a much larger dog, later described as a pitbull-boxer mix. The neighbor with the chihuahua was dog-sitting the larger dog for six weeks, and both animals had gotten out of his house.
Plaintiff, startled and alarmed, dove into the back of his pickup truck to get away from the dog. In taking this action, he injured one of his hands and hyper-extended his knee.
He subsequently sought medical care for his injuries.
In his personal injury lawsuit, he alleged defendant neighbor was strictly liable for his injuries.
Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment in his favor, which was granted by the judge.
Plaintiff appealed, arguing firstly that the court’s granting of the summary judgment motion was premature because the discovery period in the case hadn’t yet expired. Case law has established that normally it would be an error for a court to hear and rule on a motion for summary judgment when the discovery period is still pending. However, that doesn’t mean the trial court is strictly barred from doing so, for example in cases where a plaintiff hasn’t sought any discovery prior the motion.
In this case, defendant noted that the only discovery filed was an affidavit from plaintiff. No discovery on defendant had been done, and defendant’s attorney reportedly notified plaintiff’s lawyer that if no further discovery was intended, he would be moving for summary judgment. Plaintiff did not file notice of any further discovery for two months thereafter, and defendant then moved for summary judgment.
Plaintiff responded that there were still genuine issues of material fact.
However, plaintiff never disputed defendant’s assertions that he had not conducted further discovery. Plaintiff’s other arguments were raised for the first time on appeal. Because of this, the court rejected plaintiffs arguments and affirmed the summary judgment.
Although it’s possible a case like this can prevail, it requires an adequate amount of pre-trial preparation and discovery, something a knowledgeable North Carolina personal injury should help a party handle.
Contact the Carolina personal injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Lee v. Collins, March 7, 2017, North Carolina Court of Appeals
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