South Carolina Law on Dog Bite Responsibility
Per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year with most dog bite victims being children between the ages of five and nine. Of these bites, nearly 885,000 require medical attention, and treatment can cost in upwards of $50,000 for each incident. According to State Farm Insurance, in 2017 alone, South Carolina ranked 21st in dog bite claims with 62—for a total insurance payout of $1.7 million.
If you have been the victim of a dog bite in South Carolina, you may be entitled to compensation for injuries and other damages. But who is responsible if a dog bites a person in South Carolina and what are your legal options if you or someone you love is a victim of an unprovoked dog attack?
South Carolina law
Under South Carolina Code Section 47-3-110, a “dangerous animal” is defined as a dog that:
The owner knows—or reasonably should know—has the disposition, propensity, or tendency to attack unprovoked
Makes an unprovoked attack that occurs off the owner’s premises that causes bodily injury to another
Commits unprovoked acts off the owner’s premises that cause a reasonable person to believe that the animal will attack and cause bodily injury
Is kept and/or trained for fighting
Of particular importance is that an animal is not considered to be dangerous under this statute if it provoked into attacking or attacks a person who is trespassing.
Dangerous animals are required to be confined in either a securely enclosed and locked pen or indoors with appropriate signage and are not permitted to go beyond the owner’s premises without being safely restrained. Further, all dangerous animals must be registered with local law enforcement, and owners must maintain insurance liability of no less than $50,000 for potential injuries caused by the animal.
The one-bite rule
Some states have a one-bite rule in which the dog’s owner is held liable for his/her dog’s injuries if the owner knew—or reasonably should have known—that the dog was potentially dangerous or possessed a propensity to attack another person. Essentially, under said statute, a dog gets a “free” bite before the owner is held liable for the dog’s actions.
South Carolina does not have this rule. Instead, the state has a strict liability law that holds dog owners legally responsible and liable for all damages an individual suffers if bitten or attacked by the owner’s dog if the dog bites or otherwise attacks the victim in a public place or in a private place with permission such as in the dog owner’s backyard.
In these cases, the victim need not prove that the owner knew or should have known that the dog was vicious or prone to attack. As such, South Carolina protects dog bite victims to a greater extent than do states with one-bite rules, thus making it easier to establish a clearer case of liability.
More than half of dog bite injuries occur in the house with dogs that are familiar to the victim and are covered under homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies up to the policyholder’s liability limits. However, if the claims exceed said limits then the dog’s owner is legally and financially responsible for any damages above that amount.
Some insurance carriers will not insure homeowners who have certain breeds of so-called “dangerous” dogs such as pit bulls and Rottweilers; however, other companies will decide on a case-by-case basis as determined by a dog’s prior behavior. In some cases, insurance companies won’t even ask about a dog’s breed. Yet, if a dog does, in fact, bite someone, then it poses a heightened risk and the insurance company may then assess a higher premium, fail to renew the policy, or exclude the dog from subsequent coverage. In addition to possible civil liability, the owner of a dog who bites a person will face criminal liability.
However, as mentioned, if injuries were sustained as a result of the victim provoking the dog to attack—or if the victim was trespassing on private property when the attack occurred—the dog’s owner may not be liable for the victim’s injuries.
Types of compensation
Victims of dog bite injuries may be entitled to both economic and non-economic compensation. Economic—or compensatory—damages may include lost wages and medical bills. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, punitive damages, and emotional distress. Consulting with a qualified and experienced attorney will ensure that you are apprised of your rights and get the justice you deserve.
Remember, it is not necessary to prove that the dog was aggressive and had a propensity to bite to prevail in a dog bite lawsuit. Thus, if you or someone you love has been the victim of a dog bite injury, please contact Venus Poe today at 864.963.0310 or fill out an online case evaluation form. We have offices in Greenville and Fountain Inn, South Carolina to better serve you. Knowing your rights is imperative to ensure you are fully compensated for your injuries and other losses. Also, there is no obligation or charge for our initial consultation to see if we can assist you with your case.
The information you obtain in this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should not read this article to propose specific action or address specific circumstances, but only to give you a sense of general principles of law. Application of these general principles to particular circumstances must be done by a lawyer who has spoken to you in confidence, learned all relevant information, and explored various options. Before acting on these general principles, you should hire a lawyer licensed to practice in the jurisdiction in which you may have a case.