According to WYFF4.com, an eight-year-old boy was recently on vacation with his family in Greenville, South Carolina when he was bit by a five-foot-long pet Columbian red-tailed boa. At the time of the attack, the owner of the snake was standing on Main Street and had been allowing people passing by to stroke or hold his pet snake. However, when the little boy approached to pet the snake it lashed out and bit him on the forearm. Paramedics were able to treat the boy’s wound, and the police note that the snake owner will not be charged as Greenville does not have an ordinance against having pet snakes in public so long as the snake is not ‘running at large.’
It’s not every day that you see a man with a five-foot-long pet snake walking down the street, but on the other hand, a man walking down the sidewalk with his dog is a very common occurrence in South Carolina. What if the little boy had reached out to pet a dog rather than a snake? Would the injured little boy and his family be filing a personal injury claim against the owner if the pet that bit the boy had been a dog and not a snake?
Owner Liability for Injuries Caused By Pets
If your pet attacks someone you may be liable to the victim for the losses that your pet causes them to suffer. Damages for a personal injury lawsuit can easily include pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages, future expenses, funeral and burial expenses (in the event that the victim dies because of the attack), loss of consortium, and punitive damages. But when is a pet owner liable? In the United States, the answer to this questions depends on which state you are in as each state has its own animal attack liability laws.
Some states impose ‘strict liability’ on animal owners when their pets attack others. In a state that imposes strict liability, animal owners are liable for any injuries that their pet causes, regardless if the owner acted negligently or with the intent to cause harm. In other states, animal owners can only be held responsible if they knew, or should have known, that their pet had ‘dangerous propensities.’ These laws are generally referred to as ‘one bite’ rules, due to the fact that after your animal bites once the owner should generally be put on notice that their pet has dangerous propensities. But be careful because the name of this rule can be misleading; in many instances your pet does not actually have to bite someone in order to put you on notice that it is dangerous. For example, the one bite rule may be triggered if the victim can prove that a dog owner knew that the animal had previously demonstrated a desire to bite someone in the past, even if the dog never actually bit anyone. Basically these laws allow owners to believe that their pet is not dangerous until proven otherwise.
Does the Type of Pet That I Have Affect My Liability?
Yes, the type of animal that you choose to keep as a pet can affect how legally responsible you are in the event that your pet hurts someone. Once again, the precise answer varies a bit from state to state, but many states impose strict liability on people who choose to keep wild animals as pets. However, liability for injuries caused by domestic animals is mostly determined by using the same negligence laws that apply in other personal injury cases. In these cases the victim has to prove that the owner owed them a duty of care, that the duty was breached, that the breach caused the injury, and that they suffered damages. Additionally, most states have ‘dog-bite’ statutes that specifically dictate when a dog owner is liable for injuries that their pet dog causes.
South Carolina’s Dog Bite Statute
South Carolina’s main dog bite statute, contained in S.C. Code § 47-3-110, generally imposes strict liability on dog owners if their dog bites or otherwise attacks someone. In order for strict liability to apply under our state’s dog bite statute, the victim must have been bitten or attacked while either in a public place, or in a private place where the victim was lawfully allowed to be. Additionally, courts in South Carolina will not apply strict liability in a dog bite case if any of the following situations are present when the attack occurs:
- The victim attacked, provoked, or harassed the dog, or
- The dog was working in a law enforcement capacity with a government agency and the attack was legally conducted.
Local Ordinances and Regulations
When assessing liability for pet attacks, it is important to look not only to your state’s pet liability laws but also to any local ordinances or regulations that may be applicable to your situation. For example, some cities have leash laws that can impact your dog bite claim if the owner was not obeying the leash law when the attack occurred. Pursuing a personal injury claim in the aftermath of an animal attack can be a complicated task. Therefore, it is always a good idea to discuss your legal options with a competent personal injury lawyer.
What Can We Do To Help?
If you have been attacked by an animal and have questions about filing a personal injury claim, contact the experienced Rock Hill personal injury lawyers at the Elrod Pope Law Firm for a free consultation today. Our competent team can walk you through the process of filing a personal injury claim, outline the likely outcome of your case, and discuss the possibility of the dog owner’s insurance compensating you for your losses.
Thomas E. Pope is a Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Medical Malpractice Attorney who practices in Rock Hill, Lake Wylie, and Lancaster, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 31 years now. Thomas E. Pope believes in protecting the injured. Learn more about his experience here.