Dangerous Dog Bites
Mims v. Parker, 839 S.E.2d 433 (N.C. App. 2020)
In North Carolina, dog owners can be liable for injuries caused by their dogs. We all love our friendly four-legged companions, but a dog is still an animal that can cause devastating injuries if it reacts poorly to a situation. We all have heard stories of how even the most kind and gentle ones can fly off the leash in a fit of madness. But our state limits liability for dog attacks to certain exceptions. Mims v. Parker is a case that addresses some of the liabilities.
- Facts: Plaintiff filed a suit alleging that a dog owned by Defendants attacked and caused injury to their pet dog, as well as to one the Plaintiffs, causing the amputation of a fingertip. Before a jury, Defendant’s testified that they were neighbors with the Plaintiff, that the dog belonged to their son, and that the dog had previously been known to Defendants to escape the kennel and yard and get into altercations with other dogs in the neighborhood. Defendants also testified that they told their son to “get rid of the dogs.” The jury found that the dog was kept by the Defendants, and that Plaintiff was injured by the “vicious animal.” Defendants filed motions for a directed verdict. The trial court denied. Defendants appeal.
- Issue: Was the evidence presented at trial sufficient to support the Jury’s verdict?
- Rationale: In order to recover for injuries inflicted by a dog, one must show that (1) the animal was dangerous or was determined to possess a vicious propensity; and (2) that the owner or keeper knew or should have known of the animal’s vicious propensity, character, and habits. Our statute defines a dangerous dog as one that has killed without provocation or inflicted severe injury on a person; or been determined as such 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 (a. Inflicted a bite on a person that resulted in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations or required cosmetic surgery or hospitalization; or b. Killed or inflicted severe injury upon a domestic animal when not on the owner’s real property; or c. Approached a person when not on the owner’s property in a vicious or terrorizing manner in an apparent attitude of attack.). Additionally, a dog owned or harbored primarily or in part for the purpose of dog fighting is a dangerous dog. This case hinged on the fact that the Defendants did not own the dog. It was under the ownership of their son, and the Court refused to extend strict liability on the landlord if they did not have knowledge of the vicious tendencies of the animal on their land.
- Lessons and Observations:
- There are many caveats before strict liability applies. And proving knowledge may be the biggest boundary. Evidence of past acts of the dog and the owner’s knowledge of them are required before a plaintiff can recover. How to get that evidence and show that is the difficult part.
- How it relates to family law? Child Custody often factors in the relative condition of the home and other living conditions when determining which environment best suits the needs of the child. Character of the parents is an important factor as well. A creative family law attorney may be able to use the existence of a dangerous dog as relevant factors in certain situations.