Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matthew R. Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “What does the “one-bite rule” mean in NC dog bite cases?”
A killer is on the loose in Union County. On Saturday, a pet owner in the county notified law-enforcement authorities that his two Great Danes had been shot by arrows.
An officer responding to the call found one dog lying near the back corner of the man’s property, while a second dog was found under a shed. An arrow was still stuck in the first dog. The officer could not find a second arrow, but observed what appeared to be an arrow wound to the second dog’s neck. Both dogs died of their injuries.
This followed the fatal shooting of a dog in Union County last week. In that case, a woman found her husky mix dead under her storage building, with four gunshot wounds. The storage building also was riddled bullet holes, according to the Union County Sheriff’s Office. The dog’s owner said the husky was valued at $500.
Last month, two dog owners in Union County reported that their pets had been poisoned with antifreeze. The dog owners theorized that hunters had put out antifreeze to ward off dogs or coyotes. The Union County Sheriff said an investigator was working on those cases, and that using antifreeze to get rid of dogs was illegal.
North Carolina treats cruelty to animals as a criminal matter, and the state routinely prosecutes those who commit cruel acts upon or who are neglectful toward animals. But what recourse does a pet owner have against one who is found responsible for the death of a beloved animal?
Believe it or not, the North Carolina courts have answered this question, but pet owners may not like the answer.
North Carolina does recognize pets as the personal property of their owners. As such, the state courts recognize causes of action by aggrieved pet owners against those who—through negligent or intentional conduct—cause a pet’s injury or death. Pet-owner claims run into trouble when owners plead damages, or in other words, when they attempt to place a monetary value on the loss of their pet.
The value of a dog, for instance, would be its “replacement value.” So if a pet owner bought a dog for $500, then the owner’s damages are $500 for the loss of the pet.
In 2012, the North Carolina Court of Appeals considered the argument of Nancy and Herbert Shera, whose beloved beagle “Laci” died as a result of the negligence of the N.C. State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The Sheras argued that they were entitled to $28,000 in damages and urged the court to consider the “intrinsic” value of their dog when calculating damages.
While the court sincerely empathized with the Sheras, it was not “in the position to expand the law.” As such, the only recovery they could make for the loss of “Laci” was her replacement value. The Court of Appeals did instruct the Sheras to petition the legislature and to cite “the numerous policy considerations presented by the issue raised” by their case. To date, I am unaware of any act by the legislature providing for additional damages for the loss of a pet.
So if someone’s negligent or intentional conduct kills your pet, you do have a claim, but it’s a small claim.
If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of someone’s negligent or intentional conduct, please do not hesitate to contact me to set up an appointment today. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding potential personal injury claims, feel free to contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC in Charlotte, North Carolina for a free consultation. Call toll free at (955) 370-2828 or click here for additional resources.
About the Author
Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.
In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.
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