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Who Is Liable For A Dog Bite Injury In Charleston, SC And Summerville, SC? Liability and Collectability!

Posted by Jay McMillian | Apr 19, 2018 | 0 Comments

Under South Carolina law, the liability assigned for injuries caused by dog bites and/or animal encounters is determined through a legal standard known as strict liability. In layman's terms, strict liability means that the mere occurrence of the act is proof of a breach of the duty of care. The act itself is the proof of negligence. Sounds simple enough right, dog bites person, person finds out who owns dog, and then sues the owner of the dog for damages. In theory that is exactly how it would work. However, there are several factual and practical matters that can make dog bite injuries some of the most difficult to collect compensation on for an injured client. Let's explore how this is the case.

SOUTH CAROLINA LAW ON DOG BITE LIABILITY

The statute that controls all incidents of dog / animal bites and injuries is found at S.C. Code Ann. Sec. 47-3-110. The relevant part of the statute states:

  • (A) 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, including the property of the dog owner or person having the dog in the person's care or keeping, the dog owner or person having the dog in the person's care or keeping is liable for the damages suffered by the person bitten or otherwise attacked . . .
  • (B) This section does not apply if, at the time the person is bitten or otherwise attacked
    • (1) the person who was attacked provoked or harassed the dog and that provocation was the proximate cause of the attack...
So a clear reading of the statute shows that the dog owner is liable for any bite injuries caused by the animal, or if the dog is in another person's care or keeping, that individual would be liable for any injuries resulting from a bite/injury. This part of the statute would put any professional pet-sitters, dog-walkers, or kennel operators on notice for potential liability.
 
A further reading of the statute shows that the primary exception to the presumed liability of a pet owner for injuries caused by their animal would be if the animal is provoked or harassed and the provocation caused the attack.
 

There are three specific scenarios under the statute where the attack is unprovoked and the injured party is lawfully on the premises:

First, the dog owner is strictly liable and common law principles are not implicated.  Second, a property owner is liable when he exercises control over, and assumes responsibility for, the care and keeping of the dog.  Third, a property owner is not liable under the statute when he has no control of the premises and provides no care or keeping of the dog.

SOUTH CAROLINA COURTS SET LIMITS ON DOG BITE LIABILITY

So at this point, it is clear to see that a dog owner, absent specific facts, will be more than likely liable for bites by their dog. But the case law in South Carolina also refers to property owners. The reference to property owners is tied directly to the statutory language of "other person having the dog in his care or keeping." 

The South Carolina Supreme Court has issued a series of opinions that shed some light on the specific meaning of the phrase "other person having the dog in his care or keeping" that is found in the dog bite statute.

If the dog bite occurs at a private residence by an animal that is owned by the owner of the private residence, then case closed . . . the home owner / dog owner is going to be strictly liable under the statute (if the animal was not provoked). However, what about cases where the dog owner is not a property owner but a renter or a tenant? Who is liable and who can be subject to liability?

The first and obvious part of that answer is that the animal owner (the renter) is going to be liable under the statute, much like the home owner under the same scenario. The next logical step to take is "Can the Landlord be liable?"

The South Carolina Supreme Court addressed the potential liability of landlords for animals owned by tenants. In Clea v. Odom, the SC Supreme Court held that claims for strict liability and negligence could move forward against the landlord for a tenant's dog that attacked a child in the common area of the apartment complex. However, there is also case law that has not allowed claims to move forward against landlords for injuries that occurred within the premises of the leased space, or when the landlord was not personally involved in caring for the animal.

So, in South Carolina, the exposure of Landlords to dog bite liability is rooted more in the common law negligence theories of premises liability and breach of duty of care than in the strict liability statute. Landlords are exposed to potential liability as property owners,  not dog owners. It is very rare that the Landlord is actively involved in the care of the animal which would also subject him/her to the statute. 

Why is it so important to determine who is potentially liable for a dog bite? Well, let's address that now . . . 

HOW DO I GET COMPENSATED FOR A DOG BITE INJURY IN CHARLESTON, SC AND SUMMERVILLE, SC?

The are two distinct parts to any claim involving a dog bite or animal injury claim. First, usually there is always at least one person who is liable. It is going to be either the dog owner, the person responsible for the keeping of the dog, or the property owner. The second, and most practical part of this equation is how will the injuries be compensated.

I have never turned down an animal injury case because I couldn't establish liability! I have turned these cases down because there is no source of insurance or funds to collect on behalf of the client. That is a harsh truth. 

If a dog bite / animal injury occurs at a private residence, by an animal owned by the home owner, that is a good case! The homeowner / dog owner is going to have a homeowner's policy in place that will include liability coverage and probably has specific provisions concerning animal injuries. Those are the easy ones. 

What about renters though? Yes they would obviously be exposed to liability since they are the owners of the animal, but what if the bite were not in the common area, but inside the apartment . . . or in the driveway of a single family home that is being rented? 

Cases involving renters are very fact sensitive. If the facts of the incident dictate that the Landlord is most likely not going to be liable for the injuries, how does a victim get compensated by a renter who will not have a homeowner's policy to fall back on? Furthermore, what if the renter does not carry renter's insurance and has absolutely no coverage for these incidents. Is it practical to sue the renter for these damages if it is painfully obvious no insurance is to be had and the judgment may be eternally uncollectable. 

Any dog bite / animal injury case that I have ever turned down has been due to the ability to actually reduce a judgment / liability to compensation for the victim.

THE MCMILLIAN LAW FIRM - DEDICATED TO SERVING DOG BITE / ANIMAL INJURY VICTIMS IN CHARLESTON, SC AND     SUMMERVILLE, SC 

As a Personal Injury lawyer in my solo practice, I will take all necessary steps to protect your rights and earn just compensation for you as a result of your dog bite / animal injury. Through my efforts, I can bring about much needed financial relief to a victim who may be suffering from serious injuries and permanent disability. Being a small firm allows you to have direct access to your lawyer during this entire process, with open lines of communication as we work together towards a viable solution to your specific case. 

Being an experienced personal injury attorney, I have experience dealing with insurance companies. I also know where the courthouse is and will not be afraid to call the insurance company to the mat in front of a judge and jury if necessary.

If you or a loved one has been injured by a dog bite or some type of animal attack in Charleston, Summerville, Mount Pleasant, James Island, West Ashley, Goose Creek, Moncks Corner, North Charleston, or any of the other fine communities of the Low Country, and need to meet with an experienced personal injury lawyer, please contact me to set up your free case evaluation today. Let me help prevent you from being taken advantage of by the insurance company. I am serious and I am here for you! Contact The McMillian Law Firm today @ 843-900-1306

About the Author

Jay McMillian

Background I chose to build my law practice in the areas of Car Accident and Personal Injury because these areas of the law are the most accurate reflection of my values and my upbringing. Being the son of a breakfast hostess and a retired US Army Sargent turned construction worker, the values instilled upon me by my par...

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The McMillian Law Firm

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Attorney Jay McMillian operates a solo practice with an emphasis on two core principles. First, to provide competent legal advice in the areas of Auto Accident and Personal Injury Law to the people he is proudest to serve, the people of the South Carolina Low Country. Second, to provide the most personal and intimate service to each and every client and give them the attention and compassion that they deserve while going through the stress and strain of negotiating or litigating an injury claim. If you live in Charleston, Summerville, Mount Pleasant, Goose Creek, James Island, Walterboro, Moncks Corner, and you or someone you love has been injured by the negligence of another, please call Jay at The McMillian Law Firm today.

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