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South Carolina Dog Bite Law: Landlords and Common Areas

South Carolina dog bite law adheres to strict liability when it comes to dogs biting or harming people, S.C. Code Ann. § 47-3-110:. The only defense would be if the dog was provoked in some way by the person that it attacked.

Recently the South Carolina Supreme Court rendered an opinion that helps in better illustrating the specific phrase of the dog bite law, “other person having the dog in his care or keeping.” In Clea v. Odom Opinion No. 27029, the court determined that claims for strict liability and common law negligence could move forward against the landlord for a tenant’s dog that attacked a child in the common area of the apartment complex. Citing Harris v. Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, 381 S.C. 357, 364, 673 S.E.2d 423, 427 (2009) the court stated, the presence or absence of a duty determines liability in situations that involve a statutory claim against a person having the dog in his care or keeping.  Id. at 365, 673 S.E.2d at 427.  There are three scenarios under § 47-3-110 when 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.

Although each set of facts in a case are unique to that particular case, the SC Supreme Court helps limit the dark corners for the at fault owner or keeper’s liability insurance company to hide.

If you know liability insurance companies trying to hide from their duties to pay a fair and reasonable amount for the negligence of their insured, let me know.

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South Carolina Dog Bite Cases: Pointers from an Expert Witness

Ron Berman, an expert witness in dog bite cases throughout the United States, recently had an article entitled, “Dog Bite Cases: Avoiding 9 Common Mistakes”, in The Justice Bulletin published by the South Carolina Association of Justice.

This article provided several important points in building a dog bite case and the mistakes an attorney could make in developing their case against the negligent owner or person keeping and/or caring for the aggressive dog. (To review the law of South Carolina on dog bites read my previous blog entitled, “Dogs Bite, Owners Pay: South Carolina Dog Bite Law“.)

Mr. Berman makes these important points for those who have been bitten by a dog and incurred injuries:

  • Just because South Carolina has strict liabilityon dog bite cases does not mean a defense can not be raised or a burden for injuries can be met;
  • Video presentation or pictures of the aggressive dog can go a long way in being reimbursed for your injuries;
  • Inspect the area the dog inhabited for further clues of its aggressive nature;
  • Look over and request any documents or papers that can be provided by the owner for the dog;
  • Take pictures and document any wounds or bite marks; and
  • If going to trial, consult with an expert witness that can further your case.

As a point of reference, Mr. Berman cited statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that clearly point to how big an issue dog bites can be on a national level:

 

  • About 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year.
  • Almost one in five of those who are bitten :a total of 885,000: require medical attention for dog bite-related injuries.
  • In 2006, more than 31,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by dogs.
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Dog Bites Against Postal Workers on the Rise in South Carolina

The Greenville News reported on the alarming rise in dog bites against US Postal Carriers:

The postal service’s Greater South Carolina District, which has 995 city carriers and 1,448 rural carriers, has had a “shocking” increase in dog bites in recent months, the agency said……

Harry Spratlin, spokesman for the USPS Greater South Carolina Performance Cluster, said it’s difficult to pinpoint a cause for the rise in dog bites to letter carriers………

“Even small breed dogs have the potential to inflict injuries that can threaten a carrier’s career. Our best approach is to issue an appeal to all dog lovers: please, be responsible owners: control your pets.”

If you have been attacked by a dog, either on the job or off the job, you may have a cause of action against the dog’s owner or keeper.  South Carolina’s law on dog bites is clear:

S.C. Code Ann. § 47-3-110: Liability of owner or person having dog in his care or keeping.

Whenever any 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 owner of the dog or other person having the dog in his care or keeping, the owner of the dog or other person having the dog in his care or keeping is liable for the damages suffered by the person bitten or otherwise attacked. …. If a person provokes a dog into attacking him then the owner of the dog is not liable.  (emphasis added).

I have covered this topic in a previous post in more depth. Please click on the link below to learn more about South Carolina’s law on dog bite incidents.

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Dogs Bite, Owners Pay: SC Dog Bite Law

Lassie: “Woof” “Woof”

Cully Wilson: “What’s that? Timmy’s in the well? ”

Lassie: “Woof” “Woof”

Trey Mills: “You just took a hunk out of Timmy’s butt totally unprovoked. Who’s your owner OR keeper?”

S.C. Code Ann. § 47-3-110: Liability of owner or person having dog in his care or keeping.

Whenever any 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 owner of the dog or other person having the dog in his care or keeping, the owner of the dog or other person having the dog in his care or keeping is liable for the damages suffered by the person bitten or otherwise attacked. …. If a person provokes a dog into attacking him then the owner of the dog is not liable.  (emphasis added). 

In Harris v. Anderson Cty. Sheriff’s Office, No. 26596, the Supreme Court of South Carolina recently discussed this statute, more specifically the “or” in between “owner of the dog” and “other person having the dog in his care or keeping”.  The Court held:

In construing the term “or” consistent with its common understanding as a disjunctive, we hold section 47-3-110 allows a plaintiff to pursue a statutory claim against the owner of the dog “or other person having the dog in his care or keeping.”  Because of the plain language in this statute, we conclude that the Legislature intended to allow a claim against the owner of the dog when another person has the dog in his care or keeping.  (emphasis added).

For lawyers the Court provided an interesting analysis of statutory and common law issues that could arise from an unprovoked dog bite. The Court stated:

[Nesbitt v. Lewis, 335 S.C. 441, 517 S.E.2d 11 (Ct. App. 1999)], presents three scenarios under section 47-3-110 when 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.  It is the presence or absence of a duty that determines liability in the latter two situations that involve a statutory claim against the “other person having the dog in his care or keeping.”  To this degree, section 47-3-110 implicates the common law. Our Legislature has spoken clearly in section 47-3-110 that, as concerns a dog owner’s liability, negligence principles in general and fault in particular have no place.

BOTTOM LINE:   IF YOUR DOG BITES SOMEONE UNPROVOKED YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE HARM, OR INJURIES.

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Local Resources for Injured Clients

At Trammell & Mills Law Firm, we’re dedicated to protecting the rights of injury victims. People get hurt while at work, in vehicle accidents, in unexpected falls, or as the result of defective products. When an injury isn’t your fault, you can use the law to be paid fairly for your treatment.  But not everyone can afford access to medical services, so where can you turn for help?

If you suffer any severe injury that results in a broken bone or serious bleeding, don’t hesitate to seek emergency room treatment at a hospital.  Your urgent health comes first. But what about other injury ailments like strains, sprains, neck or back pain? Those also need medical attention, and you’ll need a diagnosis in order to pursue legal action. But if you’re unemployed or don’t have insurance, paying for a doctor visit could be a financial nightmare.

Fortunately, there are several clinics in our area where you can find free or low-cost treatment. Most of the clinics listed below will require proof of residency and unemployment, and you may need an appointment, so check before visiting.

The Anderson Free Clinic serves residents of Anderson County who meet federal income guidelines and have no insurance. You’ll need to fill out an application and have a new patient screening. The clinic is at 414 North Fant Street. Call (864) 226-1294 or visit their website for more information: https://andersonfreeclinic.org/

Samaritan Health Clinic is the free clinic of Pickens County. You’ll need a Social Security card, photo ID, proof of residence, and proof of income. They offer exams and other medical services. It’s at 303 Dacusville Highway in Easley. Call (864) 855-0853 or see their website:  https://www.samaritanhealthclinic.org/

The Greenville Free Medical Clinic offers diagnosis and treatment for a variety of ailments. Greenville County residents without insurance and have proof of household income are welcome. GFMC is at 600 Arlington Avenue in Greenville. Call (864) 232-1470 or see their website at  http://www.greenvillefreeclinic.org/

The Golden Strip Free Clinic also serves Greenville County. This sliding scale clinic requires proof of financial need and may require some payment. 101 Howard Drive in Simpsonville. Call (864) 232-1470, or visit: https://www.freeclinics.com/det/sc_Golden_Strip_Resource_Center

In Seneca, The Rosa Clark Medical Clinic provides a variety of primary care services. You can download an enrollment form, and you’ll need an ID and current proof of income. The clinic is at 301 Memorial Drive in Seneca, and you can call (864) 882-4664. Their website is https://rosaclarkclinic.org/index.html

The Clemson Free Clinic serves Clemson, Pendleton, Central, and Six Mile.  Lack of insurance and proof of income are required. 1200 Tiger Blvd. in Clemson, (864) 654-8277. Visit their site at https://www.clemsonfreeclinic.org/

There are several free clinics in northeast Georgia. MedLink operates clinics in Hartwell, Bowman, Colbert, and Royston.  All have sliding scale payment, and you can find a list at https://www.freeclinics.com/cit/ga-hartwell

Additionally, there are other options and avenues your attorney may able to educate you on to ensure you get the treatment you need without necessarily paying up front or out of your own pocket before any settlement is reached.

If you’re an injury victim, find the health treatment you need, keep all documentation, and more importantly- call Trammell & Mills at (864) 485-8585, so you can get the settlement you deserve.