You don’t want to be all bark and no bite. But you do want your dog to be.
Dogs send more than 300,000 Americans to the hospital every year. Most injuries are insignificant, but even a short hospitalization is inconvenient.
You can suffer from a dog bite at any moment. Laws are in place to protect you, whether you were bit or whether you own the dog. But despite the risks, many people don’t know about dog bite laws.
South Carolina’s dog bite law is quite unique. Here is a quick guide to it.
The Basics of the Dog Bite Law
In general, there are two types of dog bite laws. The “One Bite Rule” dictates that an owner is not liable for a dog’s first bite. Since they could not have known that their dog was dangerous, they do not have to pay for injuries.
South Carolina used to follow the “One Bite Rule.” But they amended their laws for “strict liability.” A dog owner is liable if their dog bites someone, regardless of whether the owner themselves did anything wrong.
Title 47, Chapter 3 of the South Carolina Code of Laws regulates dog bites. If an attack occurs when the victim is in a public space or is lawfully in a private space, the owner is liable. If the victim did not provoke the dog, the owner is liable.
For a first offense, an owner can face a $5,000 fine and a three-year prison sentence. For subsequent offenses, an owner can face a $10,000 fine and a five-year prison sentence.
This does not include civil costs, which can be substantial. If the victim is killed, the fines and prison sentence can be higher.
An individual may face related charges depending on the attack. An owner must not allow their dog to run at large. If they do, they can face fines and open themselves to attack charges.
If their dog is dangerous, the owner must confine the animal. Any pen or run area must be marked with signs so people know there is a dangerous animal.
Owners must register dangerous animals with the Department of Natural Resources. If their animal is not dangerous, they should register it. They are not required to do so, but registration expedites return if the dog escapes.
Owners must maintain insurance in case their dog attacks someone. The policy must cover damages of $50,000 or more.
A person who is being attacked by a dog may use reasonable force. They can strike or confine the animal. The victim is not liable for any damages caused by restraining or controlling the animal.
The definition of “dog attack” is a broad one. Owners have been found liable for injuries after a dog jumps or pounces on someone. A bite does not have to occur for liability.
Dog Liability Defenses
Though laws are more favorable to victims, owners still have defenses. If the victim provoked the dog, the owner is not liable.
A victim can provoke a dog in many ways. They can abuse the dog, touching it in a way that spurs it to attack. They can tease the dog verbally.
They can also harass the dog. They can take its food, water, or puppies away from it. This could encourage the dog to attack the victim.
If the victim was trespassing, the owner is not liable. A trespassing defense does not apply to people carrying out a legal duty, like mail delivery.
Liability is usually restricted to the owner. If the owner drops the dog off at a caretaker’s home, the caretaker is not liable if the dog attacks someone. They are only liable if they accept long-term responsibility for a dog’s care.
Grounds for a Lawsuit
Millions of dog bites happen every year, but few result in lawsuits. After you are bitten, you should get the owner’s contact and insurance information. You should then get medical attention immediately, even if a bite is minor.
Document everything about the attack. Take photos of your injuries and the attack site. Get witness testimonies from anyone who saw the attack, including first responders.
Contact a dog bite attorney as soon as possible. Hand over all relevant information, including medical forms. If your injuries or hospitalization was extensive, you will have a case to bring to court.
Most dog bite cases are personal injury lawsuits. The plaintiff must prove the defendant had an obligation to care for them. They must prove a breach of duty happened and substantial injuries occurred.
A plaintiff in a civil trial does not need to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. They just need to prove that the preponderance of evidence points to guilt. If the plaintiff’s assertion is more likely to be true than not, they win their case.
If you’re an owner, you should contact an attorney right away. Civil cases are great for plaintiffs, and dog bite laws are lenient for victims. You are on the defensive, and you need someone who will fight for you.
Dog bites occur every day in the United States. Each state has its own dog bite law, and you should know South Carolina’s, just in case.
South Carolina adopts strict liability. An owner is liable for damages if the victim was lawful and did not provoke the dog. Penalties are severe, even for a first-time offense.
An owner can face other charges if they do not confine their dog. Though they have some defenses, the grounds for a lawsuit are firm for plaintiffs. Whatever side you are on, you should contact a dog bite law firm right away.
Elrod Pope Law Firm is one of South Carolina’s leading personal injury firms. Contact us today, or call us at 803-599-3080.
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.