Dog Bite

South Carolina laws favor dog bite victims by holding dog owners responsible for injuries caused by their pets.  Under the law, a dog owner or handler is responsible for injuries caused by his or her dog, even if the dog’s owner did not know or could not have known that the dog would inflict the injuries.  Furthermore, liability is not limited solely to the dog’s owner, but extends to all who have the dog in their care or keeping at the time of the attack.  Dog bites frequently result injuries such as lacerations, puncture wounds, nerve damage, muscle damage, and emotional distress. Dog bites can also result in potentially embarrassing scarring that requires laser resurfacing or revision surgery, which can be expensive.  If you have been the victim of a dog attack, contact us to discuss the legal options available to you.

South Carolina Dog Bite Law Prior to 1985, South Carolina followed the “one free bite” rule in dog bite cases. That rule, now inapplicable, provided that domestic animals are not presumed to be dangerous to persons, and before recovery of damages may be had against the owner, the injured party must prove that the particular animal was of a dangerous or vicious nature and that his dangerous propensity was either known or should have been known to the owner. Nesbitt v. Lewis, 335 S.C. 441 (Ct. App. 1999).

Currently, S.C. Code § 47-3-110 governs liability for dog bites and states that, if a person is bitten or otherwise attacked by a dog while the person is in a public place or is lawfully in a private place, then the dog owner or person having the dog in their care or keeping is liable for the damages suffered by the person bitten or otherwise attacked.  There is no longer any requirement that the dog be a dangerous breed or that the dog has known vicious propensities, i.e. that the dog has a history of biting.  Additionally, a dog bite victim may now make a claim against not only the animal’s owner, but any other person having the dog in their care or keeping.  Harris v. Anderson Cty. Sheriff’s Office, 381 S.C. 357 (2009).

Defenses to Dog Bites S.C. Code § 47-3-110 states that there is no liability for the dog owner or person having the dog in their care or keeping if, at the time the person is bitten or otherwise attacked, the person who was attacked provoked or harassed the dog and that provocation was the proximate cause of the attack.  There is an additional defense if the dog was working in a law enforcement capacity with a governmental agency, subject to a number of specific conditions.  Additionally, South Carolina has established that a landlord is not liable for injuries caused by an animal kept by a tenant on leased property.  Bruce v. Durney, 341 S.C. 563 (Ct. App. 2000).

Dog Bite Insurance Coverage Issues Some insurance companies will insure homeowners for liability arising out of a dog bite without restriction.  Other insurance companies refuse to insure homeowners who own certain breeds of dogs categorized as dangerous, e.g. pit bulls. Still other insurance companies decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether an individual dog, regardless of its breed, has been deemed vicious, e.g. has a prior history of biting people.  Whether there is coverage under a homeowner’s policy for a dog bite is primarily a question of what the actual language of the policy says.

Compensation for Dog Bites Damages recoverable for victims of dog bites include:

  • Cost of medical care
  • Lost income
  • Pain and Suffering
  • Mental Anguish
  • Loss of Enjoyment of life
  • Scarring and Disfigurement

Dog Bite Attorney It is important to retain counsel who are experienced in evaluating and litigating dog bite cases to maximize the value of your case.  While South Carolina’s dog bite statute is favorable to bog bite victims, the issue of insurance coverage under a homeowner’s policy can be quite complex.  If you have been the victim of a dog bite, please contact us to discuss the legal options available to you.