North Carolina Dog Bite Laws

Dog bite victims should be aware of these important laws in North Carolina.


Under North Carolina law, any dog that bites a person must be placed under a 10-day quarantine to observe for signs of rabies. This quarantine can be carried out at a licensed veterinary hospital, at an animal control facility, or at the owner’s property, provided that the dog is kept in a secure enclosure. During the quarantine period, the dog will be monitored for any signs of rabies, such as changes in behavior or appearance. If the dog shows no signs of rabies after 10 days, it will be released from quarantine. If the dog does show signs of rabies, it may be euthanized in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

One-Bite Rule

The “one bite rule” is a legal doctrine that is applied in some states, including North Carolina, to determine liability in dog bite cases. Under the one bite rule, a dog owner is not automatically liable for injuries caused by their dog unless the owner had prior knowledge that the dog was likely to bite or otherwise cause harm to someone.

In practice, this means that if a dog has never bitten anyone before and the owner had no reason to believe that the dog was dangerous, the owner may not be held liable for injuries caused by the dog’s first bite. However, if the dog has a history of biting or if the owner was aware of the dog’s aggressive tendencies and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the bite from occurring, the owner may be held liable for any injuries caused by the dog.

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 on Municode Library’s website.

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 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 its owner). Adequate restraint is defined as a secure enclosure located on the owner’s 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.’

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 here.