Last month, a 10-year-old boy was attacked by four dogs while visiting a friend at his home. The dogs, which were not up to date on their rabies shots, scratched and bit the boy all over his body, including his neck, where the victim required nine stitches. The animals were subsequently placed in a 10 day quarantine in accordance with standard dog bite procedure.
In South Carolina, a person who is injured by a dog can hold the animal’s owner strictly liable for damages if he or she was attacked:
- While in a public place; or
- While lawfully in a private place, which includes the dog owner’s property.
In the event that the dog was being cared for by a person besides the owner, then he or she will be held liable in the owner’s stead.
A person is considered lawfully in a private place when he or she:
- Is performing a duty imposed by the state or federal government, such as a postal worker;
- Is present by invitation, whether express or implied; or
- Is a lawful tenant or resident of the property.
However, even if these requirements are met, a person is not liable for injuries caused by his or her animal in the following circumstances:
- The attacked was provoked by the person who was attacked; or
- The dog was working in a law enforcement capacity.
Under South Carolina’s strict liability statute, courts do not take into account whether the owner did anything wrong, such as failing to warn or protect others from attack. Even if the dog’s owner had no knowledge that the animal was dangerous, he or she can still be held liable.
Common Dog Bite Injuries
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 4.5 million people are injured by dogs each year. Of that number, approximately 885,000 require medical attention as a result of the encounter. Almost half of all dog bite victims are children, who are more likely to suffer injuries to the head, face, and neck areas.
Other injuries sustained by victims of dog attacks include:
- Crushed or broken bones;
- Deep lacerations;
- Disfigurement and scarring;
- Nerve damage; and
- Psychological trauma.
Dog bites can be especially traumatic for children who may suffer paralyzing fear of animals after the event. Treating these injuries can be expensive as well as painful and include the costs of the following:
- Emergency treatment;
- Reconstructive surgery;
- Physical and psychiatric therapy;
- Doctor’s appointments;
- Appointments with specialists;
- Transportation costs; and
Depending on the seriousness of the injuries, victims may be able to receive compensation for their losses, including:
- Medical expenses;
- Pain and suffering;
- Lost wages;
- Future loss of income; and
- Property damage.
A person injured by a dog has three years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit. After this point, the civil court judge would most likely dismiss the case without hearing the facts and the victim would be unable to recover any damages.
Animal Attack Prevention
In many cases there is nothing a person can do to prevent a dog attack. However, there are a few tips that can give potential victims a better chance of avoiding an interaction with a dangerous animal, including:
- Teaching children to refrain from approaching stray dogs and when interacting with animals to treat them gently and carefully;
- Instructing children about the dangers of reaching through a fence or into a cage to pet a dog;
- Never leaving a small child or infant alone with a dog;
- Directing children to always ask an owner for permission before petting his or her dog; and
- Teaching children not to run past a dog or to disturb one that is caring for puppies, eating, or sleeping.
Unfortunately, sometimes an altercation with a dangerous pet is unavoidable. In those situations, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control recommends adhering to a series of tips if threatened or attacked by a dog, including:
- Remaining calm and standing still until the dog leaves, or backing away slowly while facing the animal;
- Refraining from screaming, making other loud noises, or looking directly into the dog’s eyes;
- Shielding the body by extending an arm across the waist with a clenched fist;
- Giving firm and simple commands, such as “no” or “stay”; and
- If attacked, dropping to the ground and curling up into a ball with hands placed over the face and neck.
As soon as the victim is able, he or she should:
- Seek medical attention;
- Clean the wound;
- Obtain the name and address of the dog’s owner;
- Document all injuries with photographs;
- Keep any torn or bloody clothing;
- Obtain names and contact information of witnesses to the attack; and
- Receive necessary vaccinations.
Finally, it is always a good idea for families who do have dogs to implement a few training tools that may help reduce the chance of violent behavior, including:
- Neutering or spaying the dog, which can help curb aggressive tendencies;
- Refraining from keeping the dog tied or chained up for hours and instead fence an open area in which it can move freely;
- Spending bonding time with the animal on a daily basis;
- Avoiding highly excitable games, such as wrestling;
- Maintaining the animal’s health through vaccinations and regular exercise;
- Socializing puppies gradually to feel comfortable around groups of people and other animals;
- Training the dog to respond to basic commands;
- Using a leash while in public;
- Licensing the animal with the local government; and
- Seeking professional help immediately if the dog exhibits aggressive behavior.
While not a guarantee of safety, these tips can go a long way towards keeping neighborhood kids and other dogs safe from unexpected attacks.
Dog bites can be painful, emotionally scarring, and financially devastating for both victims and their families, so if you or a loved one have been the victim of an animal attack, it is important to obtain the advice of an experienced dog bite attorney who can help you obtain the compensation you deserve. Please contact The Jeffcoat Firm by filling out one of our contact forms, including your name, phone number, email address, and a brief description of your case and a member of our dedicated personal injury legal team in South Carolina will help you schedule a free consultation.