Lawyers are often asked about liability for the actions of clients’ animals. We all love our pets and can’t imagine a situation where they could hurt someone else. However, in many occasions it does happen, and it’s important to know your legal position at that time.

At the outset, there are two main categories to know regarding animal liability: strict liability, and knowledge. Strict liability means that the owner of the animal will be held liable for the damages caused by the animal, regardless of the facts and circumstances. The requirement of knowledge requires more from the animal owner, that the owner actually knew of the dangerous propensities of the animal.
Generally, strict liability will be the applicable standard where the animal is considered a wild animal. For cases like these, the most typical animal would be an undomesticated animal such as a lion or a bear. Regardless of whether they are kept as pets, the owners will be held strictly liable for any damages caused by the animals.

The more common scenario is with domestic animals. Where the owner of a domestic animal, including farm animals, has knowledge of the particular animal’s dangerous propensities, the applicable standard will be strict liability. Thus, the easiest way to think about it is that strict liability is always the applicable standard. However, in cases of domestic animals, the plaintiff must first prove that the defendant had knowledge of the dangerous propensities of the animal.

For example, if a wonderfully behaved Wake County poodle suddenly snapped and bit a neighbor, it’s very likely that the dog would be treated as having dangerous propensities. Thus, if a second event were to occur where the lovely poodle bit a neighbor, the Wake County owner of the animal would likely be held strictly liable for the injuries caused.

These situations can become very difficult and fact intensive without the assistance of an attorney experienced in this area. If you think you may be liable, or may have been injured as a result of a wild or dangerous domestic animal, be sure to seek adequate representation.

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