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.