Can I Sue if My Child Is Bitten by a Dog?

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A young boy has his arm bandaged by a doctor.

It depends on the circumstances of the dog bite, but in many cases, yes. If a dog has bitten your child, we recommend speaking to a North Carolina dog bite lawyer right away so you can learn about your options.

Who Is Liable if a Dog Bit My Child?

Your attorney will ask you for more information to help determine the answer to this question. First, they will want to know who owns the dog, where the attack happened, and if the dog’s owner or caregiver was present.

North Carolina doesn’t hold owners strictly liable for dog bites unless the dog is considered “potentially dangerous.” What does that mean? North Carolina defines a dog as potentially dangerous if any of the following criteria are true:

  • The dog has terrorized or harassed someone while off the owner’s property.
  • The dog has injured or killed another domestic animal off its owner’s property.
  • The dog has attacked a person and caused broken bones, disfigurement, or if the victim required hospitalization or plastic surgery.

How do you know if a dog falls into one of these categories? If you don’t know the owner, you probably have no way of knowing what the dog has or hasn’t done in the past. The dog’s owner may not be forthcoming about the animal’s history.

However, if you have the owner’s name and information, your attorney’s investigative team can look into police or Animal Control reports with the owner’s name on them. We may also interview their neighbors to learn more about the dog’s history.

Are There Other Situations Where the Owner Might Be Liable?

Yes. North Carolina does allow liability in situations where a dog of at least six months old is allowed to run unrestrained off the owner’s property at nighttime.

In other words, if the owner or caregiver allowed the dog to run outside without supervision, and it bit your child, they might be liable even if the dog isn’t known to be potentially dangerous.

In a few situations, your lawyer may be able to argue that the owner was negligent if they knew or should have known their dog was dangerous and failed to take precautions, but this is often challenging to prove. An owner who allowed their dog off-leash in a city with a leash law (like Raleigh) may also be liable.

If no one is liable, homeowner’s or business insurance options may still exist. Your attorney will work to identify any relevant policies.

What to Do Next if a Dog Bites a Child

After getting your child away from the dog, seek medical attention for injuries. Try to watch the dog or ask someone nearby to do so. Animal Control will quarantine the animal to watch for signs of rabies. Your child’s healthcare provider may recommend rabies vaccination if the dog’s vaccination status is unknown.

Call 911 to report the bite and request an ambulance if needed. An Animal Control or local law enforcement officer will take your statement and search for the dog unless it is still nearby. There are several different situations that we see in these cases:

  • The dog’s owner/caregiver secures the animal and waits for the authorities after the bite incident involving your child.
  • The dog who bit your child is with its owner/caregiver, and this person takes off with the dog after the bite.
  • The dog doesn’t appear to be accompanied by a human companion.

You may feel uncomfortable asking about their insurance information if the owner is present. After all, this person has an aggressive dog, and depending on the situation, they might feel angry or defensive. If the dog owner seems belligerent or uncooperative, it may be better to wait for Animal Control to collect their information and ask for a copy of the report later.

In cases where the owner grabs their dog and runs off, the best thing you can do is to get their description and look for a license plate number if they leave in a car. Do not try to chase after them. Remain at the scene and give your information to the Animal Control officer, including what the dog and owner looked like and which direction they went.

Things may be complicated when no owner or caregiver is in sight. You must prioritize getting your child away from the aggressive dog, though this may make it difficult to find later. If this is the case, give Animal Control a detailed description of the dog, and try to recall where it was headed the last time. Animal Control will then drive around the neighborhood looking for the animal.

Unfortunately, sometimes dogs who attack people are either stray or never found again, so you won’t be able to sue the owner. However, if the attack happened on your or a neighbor’s property, you might be able to seek compensation from homeowner’s insurance in some cases. Your lawyer can advise you on any options available.

One important thing to remember is that the insurance company will likely ask for pictures of the injuries, so take them as soon as you can.

Speak With a North Carolina Dog Bite Attorney Today

At Tatum & Atkinson, we’ve recovered more than $100 million in compensation for injured people, and our experienced lawyers are ready to help with your child’s dog bite case.

We know how devastating a dog bite can be, especially for a child. Beyond the physical injuries and pain, your child could be traumatized and develop a lifelong fear of dogs, requiring therapy.

You have a right to seek compensation for all medical expenses for physical and mental injuries and other damages. Please call our office at 800-LAW-0804 for a free consultation to learn the options in your case.