According to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 67% of U.S. households own a pet, and approximately 60.2 million homes own a dog. Since 1988 pet ownership has risen 56% in 1988. Unfortunately, the number of dog bites has also risen.
In the United States, there are approximately 4.5 million dog bites that occur throughout the United States each year, and of those bites, 800,000 victims require medical care. The United States population is approximately 330 million people. This equates to approximately 2,400 dog attacks resulting in injury every day across the United States. 1 out of every 70 people experience a dog bite every year. On a local level, according to the South Carolina Department and Environmental Control (“DHEC”), from 2010 to August 2014 there were 74,433 “dog exposures.”
As a new father, the most troubling statistic is that of the reported attacks a majority of the victims are children under the age of 12. In sum, children are the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
South Carolina Law
In South Carolina dog bite/dog attack liability is controlled by both common law principles of negligence and by statute. We adopted the English common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law) legal system just after the formation of the thirteen colonies. It wasn’t until 1986 that the South Carolina legislature enacted code specifically addressing dog bites/attacks. See, South Carolina Code Section 47-3-110. Liability for attacks by dogs. This legislation changed the law of this state and with respect to dog bite liability and made South Carolina a strict liability state, with limited exception.
SC Code Ann. 47-3-110 reads in relevant part “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…” Since the enactment of 47-3-110, South Carolina courts have interpreted the statute to mean that a dog owner is liable for his or her dog even when the dog is no longer in its control or keeping at the time of the incident – a dog owner is strictly liable if its dog bites an innocent victim. However, the law does not create liability for a dog owner if a dog bite victim is (1) an unlawful trespasser, or (2) if the dog bite was provoked by the victim.
Liability and Insurance
Generally, homeowners and renters insurance policies offer dog bite liability coverage, unless of course, the policy contains a dog bite exclusion, which is becoming very common. In our practice, when there is available dog bite coverage we typically see policies with $100,000 to $500,000, and commercial coverage equal to $1,000,000. However, if the value of a claim exceeds the liability limits of insurance the dog owner will be personally responsible for all damages that exceed liability coverage.
All dog owners should review their homeowners and/or renters’ insurance policies to make sure they have adequate coverage. This should be done on an annual basis. Doing so will ensure there are funds available to help innocent victims obtain necessary medical care, and protect the financial future the dog owner. Even if you don’t own a home you may obtain Pet Insurance. As of July 23, 2020, Progressive Insurance is advertising pet insurance for as little as $1.00/day. Here.
What Should I Do If I’m Bitten or Attacked by a Dog?
1. Wash the Wound and Seek Medical Care.
The CDC advises all dog bite victims to immediately wash wounds with soap and water and to seek medical attention.
2. Immediately Report the Attack
If you have suffered a dog bite or an attack by a domestic animal, please report the incident to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, or your regional DHEC Environmental Health Services Office. Reporting a dog bite or animal attack is important for three reasons. First, if you have been bitten or attacked by a dog South Carolina law requires you to report the attack within 24 hours. Dog bites and any animal (mammal) bite occurring within this state must be reported pursuant to S.C. Code Sec. 47-5-90. The law also requires every physician who treats a victim of a dog bite or attack to report the incident to the county health department or DHEC.
Secondly, reporting the event will result in a DHEC and/or law enforcement investigation into the incident to discover if the animal has a communicable decease, such as rabies. The animal will undergo a quarantine period after which DHEC will inform the injured party if the animal does carry a disease so that appropriate medical treatment may be sought by the victim.
Thirdly, reporting every dog bite or attack will create a paper trail, which will allow DHEC and local authorities to take appropriate action, if necessary, to protect other innocent people from suffering a similar attack.
For the above-reasons, dog bites and animal attacks are a relevant legal topic, a cause for growing concern, and likely to become an increasingly talked about subject in South Carolina. Due to the breadth of case law regarding dog bites and attacks this discussion did not encompass every aspect of this tort, nor the interplay between common law and strict liability. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions, or you feel that you may have a cause of action associated with a dog or animal attack. Milt Stratos is an experienced Joye Law Firm litigation attorney who has obtained numerous six-figure settlements on behalf of South Carolina dog bite victims.