snarling dog

According to the 2023-2024 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 66% of U.S. households own a pet, and approximately 65.1 million homes own a dog. Unfortunately, as pet ownership increases  year over year, the number of dog bites has also risen.

The World Health Organization has found that 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, so this equates to approximately one out of every 70 people experiencing a dog bite every year in the United States.

Contact Joye Law Firm for dog bite injuries. Our attorneys can help.

Perhaps the most troubling statistic available 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, but it wasn’t until 1986 that the South Carolina legislature enacted code specifically addressing dog bites/attacks with South Carolina Code Section 47-3-110This 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 says that “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 the owner’s control or keeping at the time of the incident—i.e., 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 more common. In our practice, we’ve noticed that when there is available dog bite coverage, we see coverage amounts of $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 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 to protect the financial future of the dog owner.  As of  2024, Progressive Insurance is advertising pet insurance for as little as $1.00/day.

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

dog about to bite a man's armIf 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.

Our Dog Bite Lawyers Can Help

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.

Originally published August 4, 2020. Updated April 11, 2024.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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