South Carolina Dog-Bite Laws and Owner Liability Rules

Learn about a dog owner's liability for damages in a personal injury case, South Carolina's rules for dangerous dogs, and more.

By | Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney

This article examines South Carolina laws that apply to dog-bite incidents and other cases where animals cause injury to humans. We'll look at:

  • the time limits that apply to South Carolina dog-bite cases
  • the state's dog-bite statute and its status as a "strict liability" state, and
  • the defenses that owners can raise in response to a dog-bite injury lawsuit.

Finally, we'll discuss some of the other important rules that apply to South Carolina dog owners and their pets.

Time Limits for South Carolina Dog-Bite Lawsuits

A person injured by a dog bite in South Carolina has three years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit in the state's civil court system. The law that sets this deadline is known as the statute of limitations, and it applies to all personal injury lawsuits in South Carolina. (S.C. Code § 15-3-530 (2023).)

If the lawsuit is filed after the three-year deadline has passed, the court will almost certainly throw the case out without considering it. So, it's crucial to understand and follow South Carolina's statute of limitations as it applies in your case.

South Carolina's Dog-Bite Law

In South Carolina, a dog owner may be held liable for injuries caused by their animal if:

  • the injuries were caused when the owner's dog bit or "otherwise attacked" another person
  • the injured person was in a public place or was lawfully in a private place, and
  • the injured person did not provoke the dog.

(S.C. Code § 47-3-110 (2023).)

Note that this statute applies both to bites and to other injuries caused by a dog. For instance, suppose that a dog runs out of its owner's yard and pounces on a pedestrian, knocking them over and injuring them. The injured person may seek compensation from the dog's owner under South Carolina's statute covering dog bites and other attacks.

"Strict Liability" for Dog Bites in South Carolina

South Carolina's dog-bite statute is a "strict liability" law. This means that the owner of the dog is liable even if the owner did not know and could not have known the dog would attack or bite. Many U.S. states have similar "strict liability" dog-bite rules. Other states rely on:

  • a "one-bite" rule, which requires prior knowledge that the dog might be dangerous, or
  • a negligence rule, which requires the victim to prove that their injuries resulted from the owner's failure to use reasonable care to control the dog.

Defenses to a South Carolina Dog-Bite Injury Claim

Faced with a dog-bite lawsuit, an owner in South Carolina might be able to raise some of the defenses available in any personal injury case.

In addition, defendants in dog-bite cases can raise the defenses of provocation and trespassing.

The provocation defense. South Carolina's dog-bite law specifies that, if the injured person provoked the dog, the owner is not liable for any injuries. (S.C. Code § 47-3-110 (2023).) Provocation can take many forms, such as abusing, teasing, or harassing a dog. For instance, suppose a boy puts a stick through the fence between his yard and his neighbor's yard and pokes the neighbor's dog repeatedly, angering the dog so that it jumps the fence and attacks him. The owner may argue that the boy provoked the dog and that therefore the owner is not liable for the boy's injuries.

The trespassing defense. Under South Carolina law, an injured person can only sue a dog's owner if they were on public property or lawfully on private property when they were attacked. (S.C. Code § 47-3-110 (2023).) That means a dog owner can't be held strictly liable if their dog attacked someone who was trespassing on their property. Keep in mind that invited guests, as well as workers like mail carriers and meter readers, have a lawful reason for being on an owner's property and are therefore still covered by South Carolina's strict liability statute.

Other Rules That Apply to South Carolina Dog Owners

In addition to lawsuits, South Carolina owners and their dogs can face other serious consequences in certain situations.

Dogs that harm or threaten members of the public can be classified as dangerous. Once a dog has this designation, its owner must follow rules designed to make sure their pet doesn't hurt anyone. For example, dangerous dogs must be securely confined when on the owner's property and can only leave the property if they're properly restrained. (S.C. Code §§ 47-3-710, 720 and 730 (2023).)

The owner of a dangerous dog can be charged with a misdemeanor if:

  • they don't follow the public safety rules that apply to dangerous dogs, or
  • their dog attacks and injures a person or another animal.

If a dangerous dog commits multiple attacks, the owner could face felony charges. A court can also order that a dog be euthanized if it poses a continuing threat to the public. (S.C. Code §§ 47-3-750 and 760 (2023).)

Getting Help With Your Dog-Bite Case

Whether you're a dog owner or someone who's been injured by someone else's pet, it's important to understand how South Carolina law applies to your situation. It might be helpful to speak with an attorney with the right experience to advise you on your case.

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