Man's best friend can have a vicious side. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Children are the most common victims. Fortunately, only a small percentage of these attacks are fatal. However, a significant number of dog bites result in serious injuries, permanent scarring and severe pain to the victim of the attack.
In many jurisdictions, a dog owner is only liable for injuries caused by his or her pet if the owner knew or should have known of the dog's dangerous or vicious propensities. Generally, this means that the dog must have previously attacked another person to put the owner on notice of the dangerous nature of the dog. Thus, if you are a dog's first victim, the owner may claim he had no knowledge of the dog's dangerous nature and thus, he is not responsible for your injuries. This is commonly referred to as the "one bite" rule.
South Carolina courts followed the "one bite" rule until 1985 when the South Carolina Supreme Court replaced the rule with the state's current dog bite law in the case of Hossenlopp v. Cannon, 285 S.C. 367 (1985).
In Hossenlopp, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that dog owners are strictly liable whenever their dogs bite or otherwise attack another person without provocation. A year later, the South Carolina Legislature enacted a statute holding owner's responsible for injuries caused by their dogs.
Under the statute, it does not matter if the dog had previously shown dangerous propensities or if the owner knew about these propensities. With some very limited exceptions, it also does not matter if the dog owner acted negligently. Simply owning a dog that bites another person is enough to find the owner liable.
People other than the dog's owner may also be held liable for a dog bite. Under the statute, anyone who has "possession and control" over the animal may also be liable. For example, if a friend or family member was dog sitting at their own home at the time of the attack, they may share liability with the dog owner for the injury.
The law holds dog owners liable for more than just dog bites. Under the statute, dog owners are liable when their animals "otherwise attack" another person. This may include instances when the animal jumps or pounces on someone or when someone is injured when trying to escape from a dog attack. For example, if a dog jumps on a child and the child breaks his or her arm as a result, the dog owner may be responsible for the child's injury.
A homeowner's insurance policy is the most common source of compensation following a dog bite injury. Most homeowners carry insurance coverage on their homes to provide protection in the event of fire, theft or other damage, and also in the event that someone is injured on their property. This can include those who are injured by the family pet.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, insurance providers paid more than $387 million in dog bite claims in 2008. As a result of the increasing number of these types of claims, some insurance carriers have stopped providing coverage for dog bites resulting from "dangerous breeds." These breeds generally include various pit bull breeds, but may also include other big breed dogs like Rottweilers, Doberman Pinchers and German Shepherds. If the homeowner's policy does not cover the breed of dog that injured the victim, then the dog owner may be forced to pay for the victim's damages out-of-pocket or through other insurance coverage such as an umbrella policy.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, almost one out of every five dog bites is serious enough to require the victim to seek medical attention for the injury. In South Carolina, in most dog bite cases, the dog owner will be strictly liable for the victim's injuries and damages, including but not limited to medical expenses. If the victim dies as a result of the injury, then the victim's family may be able to bring a wrongful death claim against the dog's owner.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury after being bitten or attacked by a dog, contact an experienced attorney today.
Contact us for a free consultation as early in the process as possible.