Appealing a Dog Bite Case in North Carolina

dogIf you are bitten by someone else’s dog in North Carolina, you may be able to recover compensation. You may be able to sue for compensation under the dog bite statute, as well as using multiple different doctrines, including negligence, negligence per se (negligence as a matter of law), scienter (also known as common law strict liability), and intentional torts. The dog bite statute only applies to dogs that are at least six months old and are running at large during the night, have previously hurt or killed someone, or were officially declared dangerous or potentially dangerous prior to biting you. The law governing compensation for dog bites is complex in North Carolina.

In a recent North Carolina appellate case, the plaintiff appealed from an order granting summary judgment for the defendant in a dog bite case. The case arose because the defendant’s brother owned two pit bulls that he kept at his other sister’s home in Wadesboro, North Carolina. The defendant had a residence next door to her sister, but neither of them lived in their residences. The sister’s residence didn’t have running water or electricity, so the brother would sometimes use water from the house owned by the defendant to nourish his pit bulls.

In 2013, the plaintiff (a neighbor) was bitten by the pit bulls after they ran from the defendant’s house and attacked him. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the brother and the two sisters. He sued for negligence per se and strict liability. The defendant asked that the lawsuit be dismissed for a failure to state a claim. The trial court dismissed the strict liability claim but denied the motion with regard to negligence per se.

The defendant moved for summary judgment on the negligence per se claim. The plaintiff cross-moved for summary judgment on the same claim. The trial court conducted a hearing and granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment as to the defendant’s brother and the defendant’s sister but granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff asked the court to reconsider, but this motion was denied. He appealed.

On appeal, the appellate court explained there are two ways to appeal an interlocutory order or judgment. When a judgment is final as to some of the parties, the case can be certified for appeal by the trial court under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 54(b). Or when the plaintiff’s is deprived of a substantial right, an appeal is allowed under N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 1-277(a) and 7A-27(d)(1).

In this case, the trial court had certified its order for immediate appeal. The appellate court explained that when there’s more than one claim for relief, the court can enter a final judgment for one or more, but fewer than all, claims only if there isn’t a just reason for a delay, and this is decided in the judgment under Rule 54(b). The appellate court found that the defendant’s motion for summary judgment didn’t contain the certification required by Rule 54(b), leaving her outstanding claims against the defendant’s brother and the defendant’s sister unresolved. The appellate court determined that the trial court had tried to retroactively certify a March order by entering another order in May 2016 after the notice of appeal was filed.

The court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

If you were bitten by someone else’s dog, the experienced personal injury attorneys at Maurer Law may be able to help you recover compensation. Contact us at 919-229-8359 or via our online form.

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