The South Carolina Court of Appeals has thrown out the criminal conviction of a Dillon County man, whose dogs mauled a 10 year old boy to death in 2006. The judges ruled that the trial court erred in allowing the prosecution to show photos of the boy’s body to stir up jurors’ emotions. Unfortunately,this is a very sad reminder of what can happen when dog owners are irresponsible.
It is important to know your state’s laws concerning dog bites. Some are straight forward and victim friendly, like South Carolina. South Carolina has a strict liability law when it comes to dog bites. This means if a dog attacks you, the owner of the dog is liable and you will receive damages. The only exception is if you provoke the dog to attack you.
Other States dog bite laws are more favorable to the dog owner, such as Georgia. For instance, Ga. Code Ann. sec. 51-2-7 provides:
A person who owns or keeps a vicious or dangerous animal of any kind and who, by careless management or by allowing the animal to go at liberty, causes injury to another person who does not provoke the injury by his own act may be liable in damages to the person so injured. In proving vicious propensity, it shall be sufficient to show that the animal was required to be at heel or on a leash by an ordinance of a city, county, or consolidated government, and the said animal was at the time of the occurrence not at heel or on a leash. The foregoing sentence shall not apply to domesticated fowl including roosters with spurs. The foregoing sentence shall not apply to domesticated livestock.
There are two ways that that a dog owner may be found liable for their dog’s behavior. First the victim must prove that the dog was dangerous, that the owner had knowledge of this, and that the owner handled the dog negligently or let the dog go at liberty. This can be tricky if the dog hasn’t bitten someone before. It most circumstances the dog’s first bite is “free” and cannot be prosecuted. There have been some recent cases where people testified that the dog growled at them or that they were scared of the dog which proved that the dog was dangerous. In the same regard, someone can testify that they told the owner they were scared of the dog, proving the owner knew that the dog could be dangerous.
The second way an owner can be held liable is if the victim can prove that the dog was not on a leash or heel as required by local ordinances and that the owner mishandled the dog or let it go at liberty. Careless management of the dog could include leaving a door or gate open so the dog could escape.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a dog in South Carolina or Georgia, please contact the Kerr Law Firm at 843-785-3330.