Sometimes people approach dogs they don’t know because they’re cute or because they simply love dogs. This ends up with a quick pet much of the time, however, some dogs aren’t as friendly. When an injury occurs due to a dog bite, both parties may wonder who should be held responsible. It is often an emotionally charged situation, as dog owners love their pets, and the injured party may feel like they are owed something for the injury they sustained. In these situations, can an injured party be at fault for a dog bite?
Preventing a Dog Bite
The best way to avoid liability for a dog bite is to prevent one from happening in the first place. Although a dog bite can happen unexpectedly and suddenly, here are some suggestions for safely and responsibly approaching dogs:
- Ask the owner if you can pet their dog: It is important to obtain permission from a dog’s owner before approaching the dog to greet it. If an owner knows their dog has aggressive tendencies, they may say no for your own protection.
- Present your hand to the dog for it to smell: A person should never reach over a dog’s nose or head to pet them, especially if they are a stranger to the dog. Presenting your hand and waiting for positive feedback can help prevent a bite.
- Do not growl or bark at a dog: It can be dangerous to mimic dog-like sounds in front of a dog, even in jest, because they may interpret them as aggression and strike. This rule is especially important for children.
- Do not run directly toward a dog: Unfamiliar dogs need to be approached gently and slowly. Running directly at a dog, especially an unknown dog, could make the dog defensive and lead to a bite.
- Never leave a young child alone with a dog: It isn’t safe to assume that a dog will not bite a child, even if the dog is familiar with children. Children should always be supervised when a dog is nearby.
- Remember that dogs think differently: Most dog bites happen when a dog feels cornered, feels like they’re being threatened, or is scared. Learning and understanding the signals dogs give when they’re in distress can prevent a bite or attack.
South Carolina Dog Bite Law
South Carolina has unique and specific laws regarding dog bites and other dog-related injuries. In most cases, the dog’s owner can be held liable for the dog bite. However, the following conditions must be met before someone can be held legally responsible for their dog’s actions:
- The injured party sustained the injuries specifically because of the dog biting or otherwise attacking them
- The attack happened in a public space, or in a private place the injured person was at legally
- The bite did not occur due to provocation by the injured party
In South Carolina, dog bites are not the only dog-related injury for which a person can seek damages. For example, if a person is knocked over by a dog and sustains injuries due to their fall, they may be able to seek damages from the dog’s owner.
The law in South Carolina considers dog bites to be a strict liability situation. This means that a dog owner can be held responsible for a dog bite even if they could not have known that their dog would bite someone. In some other states, dog owners can only be held liable for a bite if they had prior knowledge that their dog was dangerous or if the bite was a result of negligence on their part.
A dog owner may face a prison sentence up to 3 years and a fine of $5,000 the first time their dog causes an injury. For any following offenses, the owner may face a fine up to $10,000 and a prison sentence up to 5 years. These consequences are in addition to the civil liability the dog’s owner will be subject to. If convicted, the owner will likely have to pay damages to the injured party for things like hospital bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages.
Is the Injured Party Ever at Fault?
There are certain situations in which the person who suffered the dog bite may be responsible for their own injuries in the eyes of the law. In such cases, they cannot seek damages for their bite and the dog’s owner cannot be held responsible. An injured party will not be covered for a dog bite under the strict liability law in South Carolina if:
- They were trespassing on private property when the bite took place
- They provoked the dog or caused harm to the dog before the bite took place
The victim and their legal counsel must also prove to the court that the defendant was either the dog’s owner or responsible for the dog at the time of the attack. For example, a dog walker may be held responsible for a dog bite because they accept responsibility for the dog while working that job.
Is There a Statute of Limitations on Dog Bite Cases?
Anyone who has been injured due to a dog bite or other dog attack can file a lawsuit in South Carolina’s civil court system up to 3 years from the day the injury occurred. Any lawsuit filed after the statute of limitations is not likely to be considered by the court, so it is important to file as soon as possible.
What if the Dog Has Been Labeled as Dangerous?
South Carolina law includes a dangerous animal statute that imposes certain responsibilities on owners of animals that fit the description of “dangerous.” The law defines a dangerous dog as:
- One that a reasonable person would know has a disposition or tendency towards unprovoked attacks that can cause injury or endanger people and other domesticated animals.
- One that has attacked someone unprovoked and caused bodily injury to a person away from the owner’s property. The law considers bodily injury to include broken bones, cuts, any injury that results in death, etc.
- One that has committed other acts that would cause a reasonable person to believe the dog might attack someone.
- One that has been trained to fight or that has been used in dog fighting.
If a dog has previously attacked a trespasser on their property, the dog is not considered a dangerous animal under the law.
What Responsibilities Do Owners of Dangerous Dog Have?
Owners of dogs that are considered dangerous under the law have certain responsibilities intended to help prevent the dog from attacking people. These responsibilities include:
- Securing the dog indoors or in an enclosed fence. The fenced-off area must be marked with a sign stating the area contains a dangerous animal and must be maintained to prevent people from entering and the dog from escaping.
- The dog must be kept within the confines of the owner’s property unless safely and properly restrained.
- The dog must be registered with the owner’s local law enforcement agency, providing information such as microchip numbers, the dog’s name, the dog’s vet, etc.
- The owner must have a liability insurance policy worth $50,000 or more. This insures the owner against potential injuries caused by the dog.
Contact an Attorney Today
If you have been bitten by a dog and need legal advice or intend to seek damages, contact Pierce, Sloan, Kennedy & Early LLC today. We offer simple and concise solutions to legal issues and work hard on behalf of our clients to seek a favorable outcome. We understand that personal injury lawsuits are emotionally draining and stressful, which is why we approach our clients with empathy and explain every step of the process. Contact us today at (843) 968-0886 or via our online contact form.