North Carolina Dog Bite Laws

In North Carolina, there are three theories of recovery for a person who has been bitten by a dog: strict liability, negligence, and negligence per se.

Strict Liability

In North Carolina, the owner of a ‘dangerous dog‘ can be held strictly liable for damages that were incurred from a dog bite under N.C. Gen. Stat. §67-4.4. To reach strict liability, a plaintiff must prove that the animal that caused his or her injuries, was a ‘dangerous dog’ under N.C. Gen. Stat. §67-4.1(a)(1). N.C. Gen. Stat.§67-4.1(a)(1) defines ‘dangerous dog’ as:

  1. A dog that:
    • Without provocation has killed or inflicted severe injury on a person; or
    • Is determined by the person or Board designated by the county or municipal authority responsible for animal control to be potentially dangerous because the dog has engaged in one or more of the behaviors listed in subdivision (2) of this subsection.
  2. Any dog owned or harbored primarily or in part for the purpose of dog fighting, or any dog trained for dog fighting. N.C. Gen. Stat. §67-4.1(a)(1)(d) provides exceptions for the following dogs from being classified as ‘dangerous dogs’ or ‘potentially dangerous dogs’ under the statute:

(1) A dog being used by a law enforcement officer to carry out the law enforcement officer’s official duties;

(2) A dog being used in a lawful hunt;

(3) A dog where the injury or damage inflicted by the dog was sustained by a domestic animal while the dog was working as a hunting dog, herding dog, or predator control dog on the property of, or under the control of, its owner or keeper, and the damage or injury was to a species or type of domestic animal appropriate to the work of the dog; or

(4) A dog where the injury inflicted by the dog was sustained by a person who, at the time of the injury, was committing a willful trespass or other tort, was tormenting, abusing, or assaulting the dog, had tormented, abused, or assaulted the dog, or was committing or attempting to commit a crime.

Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 67-4.1 certain dogs can be classified as ‘potentially dangerous dogs’ by a ‘Board designated by the county or municipal authority responsible for animal control.’ Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 67-4.1(a)(2) the Board or a person will look at the following factors to determine if a dog is potentially dangerous:

  1. Inflicted a bite on a person that resulted in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations or required cosmetic surgery or hospitalization; or
  2. Killed or inflicted severe injury upon a domestic animal when not on the owner’s real property; or
  3. Approached a person when not on the owner’s property in a vicious or terrorizing manner in an apparent attitude of attack.

If an injured person is attacked by a ‘dangerous dog’, then the owner of the ‘dangerous dog’ can be held strictly liable for the injuries that the injured person incurred.


An injured person can still recover under a negligence theory, even if strict liability does not apply to his or her case. This theory is not based on the negligence of the owner, ”but rather the wrongful keeping of'[an] animal with the knowledge of its viciousness.’ Lee v. Rice, 154 N.C. App. 471, 472 (2002).

Under this theory, an injured person can recover damages if he or she proves two elements: ‘(1) that the animal was dangerous, vicious, mischievous, or ferocious, or one termed in law as possessing a vicious propensity; and (2) that the owner or keeper knew or should have known of the animal’s vicious propensity, character, and habits.’ Lee v. Rice, 154 N.C. App. 471, 472 (2002). (quoting Sellers v. Morris, 233 N.C. 560,561 (1951).)

To recover under this theory, an injured person does not have to prove that the defendant had ownership of the dog. Id. To recover, an injured person only must prove that the defendant was ‘keeping and harboring’ an animal that he knew to be vicious. Id at 474.

Negligence Per Se

If the Defendant owner or keeper of a dog has violated a statute or local ordinance, an injured person can also recover under the theory of negligence per se. In Swaney v. Shaw, the North Carolina Court of Appeals found that ‘the violation of a statute which imposes a duty upon the defendant in order to promote the safety of others, including the plaintiff, is negligence per se, unless the statute, itself otherwise provides.’ 27 N.C. App. 631, 635 (1975). (quoting Ratliffe v. Power Co., 268 N.C. 605, 610 (1966).)

Most counties have local ordinances set in place to protect their community from dangerous dogs.

The following are state and local ordinances that may apply in your case:

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 130A-200 (2007)

‘A local health director may declare an animal to be vicious and a menace to the public health when the animal has attacked a person causing bodily harm without being teased, molested, provoked, beaten, tortured or otherwise harmed. When an animal has been declared to be vicious and a menace to the public health, the local health director shall order the animal to be confined to its owner’s property. However, the animal may be permitted to leave its owner’s property when accompanied by a responsible adult and restrained on a leash.’

Cumberland County

‘Permit or negligently allow any domestic animal or livestock to run at large.’ (Cumberland County Ordinances and Regulations, Article 2, Section 3-15(a)(3). This information can be found at:

Durham County

‘It shall be unlawful for any person owning, keeping, possessing or maintaining a dog in this county to intentionally or negligently allow the dog to run at large. (“At large” means any animal found off the property of its owner and not under restraint, or any animal has been subject of a previous at large complaint when found unrestrained whether or not on or off property of its owner, or any animal previously determined to be dangerous or potentially dangerous that is not confined to a secure enclosure while on the property of it’s owner). Adequate restraint is defined as a secure enclosure located on the owners property, or a chain, leash or other physical or electronic device of sufficient strength which allows the owner to maintain control of an animal. Voice command is not adequate restraint.’ (This information can be found on the Animal Control section of the Durham County Government: The Official Website at Dogs_at_Large.html)

Wake County

Section 2-3-12 of the Wake County Animal Control Ordinance make it ‘unlawful for any owner to maintain or harbor unconfined or unrestrained any dangerous dog or potentially dangerous dog.’ (This information can be found at