Nearly half of the population in the United States owns a dog. Dogs are considered “man’s best friend” for a reason. The companionship, devotion, and protection that a canine family member offers is highly sought after, valued, and appreciated by a majority of the world’s population.
However, it is an inevitable truth that certain factors including animal instinct and protection of itself or its beloved owner may cause a dog to bite or attack. The liability that attaches to the dog’s owner for the dog bite is a hotly debated and a very important legal issue.
According to South Carolina Code of Laws Section 47-3-110, if a person is bitten or otherwise attacked by a dog in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the dog owner or caretaker, the dog owner or caretaker is strictly liable for the damages suffered by the person bitten or otherwise attacked. It is important to note that liability caused by a dog is not limited solely to bites, as other situations where the dog pounces, trips or otherwise causes injuries by touching a person may be construed as an “attack” under the statute.
What this ultimately means is that a person may be liable for injuries sustained by a dog bite or dog attack if all of the following are true:
- He is the owner of the subject dog OR you are housing, caring for, or have otherwise taken responsibility for a dog accused of biting or otherwise attacking someone.
- The bite/attack took place on public property OR on private property if the injured individual was invited onto the property or on was present the property in an official capacity as mandated by law.
- The subject dog was not provoked immediately prior to the bite/attack.
You may find yourself wondering what “private property” actually means as well as what constitutes provocation from a real-life, relatable perspective. It can be difficult to fully understand how this law actually translates to the real world. Not only is the law ambiguous on the surface, but the repercussions of a dog bite can be devastating from a financial perspective.
The first step that you should take if you find yourself to be the victim of a dog bite or dog attack in the Greenville area is to contact the legal professionals at David R. Price, Jr., P.A. You should not attempt to understand the vague and complicated laws surrounding liability for dog bite related injuries without consulting a legal professional. The attorneys at David R. Price, Jr., P.A. are well versed on South Carolina’s laws regarding dog bites, making them invaluable assets should you find yourself struggling to navigate the consequences of an attack.
When is Someone Considered to be “Lawfully in a Private Place” for Purposes of Establishing Liability for a Dog Bite?
Section 47-3-110 states that a victim of a dog bite or dog attack is lawfully on private property under the following circumstances:
- He or she is on the property in the performance of a duty which has been legally imposed by State or Federal law.
- He or she is on the property upon express or implied invitation of a tenant, property owner, or resident.
The statute expressly sets forth that a postal service employee is an individual that is considered to be present on private property to perform a legally imposed duty.
Ascertaining whether or not someone is on private property by invitation can be a bit more difficult. Clearly, if a person is explicitly invited into a home for dinner, a party, a business meeting, or other gathering, then that person has been “invited” onto property for the purposes of this statute.
Defining an“implied invitation can be more difficult. This is just another of the many reasons that seeking legal guidance from a personal injury attorney is essential if you have been attacked by a dog or other domestic animal.
Exceptions to the Rule
As with most rules, there are exceptions. Section 47-3-110 carves out an exception for liability of the person provokes the attack. But what does it mean to “provoke”?
The law is clear that if the mailman was taunting the dog or kicking or otherwise mistreating a dog prior to the attack, then the dog’s owner is not liable for the attack.
However, as with all things, defense lawyers and insurance companies try to push the exception to extremes. The law is very clear that a dog is not “provoked” under the meaning of the statute if a person simply pets the dog or interacts with it in an ordinary manner, even if the victim did not have permission to engage with the dog.
The “provocation” exception is limited to the following scenarios:
(1) The person who was attacked provoked or harassed the dog and that provocation was the proximate cause of the attack; or
(2) The dog was working in a law enforcement capacity with a governmental agency and in the performance of the dog’s official duties
Deciphering the real life applications of these exceptions are yet another reason that seeking a victim of a dog bite should seek experienced legal assistance as soon as possible after the attack.
What if a Dog has Never Posed a Risk or Bitten/Attacked Anybody Before?
South Carolina’s statute is a “strict liability” law. This means that the owner of the dog is liable even if the owner did not know and could not have known the dog would attack or bite. This is a departure from the old common law rule that still applies in many states, where an owner is not liable for a dog bite unless the dog has bitten somebody before.
Call an Attorney Today
Should you find all this legal jargon confusing, you aren’t alone. What does this all means from a practical standpoint is that if you find yourself the victim of a dog attack you should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. While being armed with a general understanding of the laws which apply to dog bites and dog attacks will be instrumental in your ability to appropriately address your claims for damages, the best way to protect your interests is to seek professional legal guidance.