No matter how much we love our pets, there’s always the chance they will run into a legal situation – which is why Attorney David Aylor answers your legal questions involving animals each issue.
QUESTION: I was just wondering how to handle a neighbor who lets his dog walk off-leash in my apartment complex. His dog attacked my on-leash dog as I was walking out my front door. I was able to get my dog back inside my apartment and she is ok. I’m bruised and scratched, and pretty shaken up, because this happened on my own doorstep. Our lease states that dogs must be on-leash and I did report this to my leasing agent. What are my rights in this situation? – Lisa from West Ashley
DAVID AYLOR: Lisa,
I am sorry to hear about this incident. Unfortunately, you are not alone; dog attacks are one of the most common incidents that cause
bodily injury, and serious emotional distress for victims. In South Carolina, dog attacks are controlled by a statute titled S.C. Code Ann. Sec. 47-3-110. This statute governs dog attacks under a simple legal theory called strict liability. This means that the person who owns the dog is to be held responsible if an attack occurs. In short, if an attack happened, the fault is always placed on the owner.
If you did nothing to provoke or harass the dog causing the encouragement of the attack, you are entitled to obtain compensation from the dog owner for your losses. This potential compensation includes:
1. Medical expenses
2. Property damage – ripped clothing, broken glasses, etc.
3. Pain and suffering – scratches and bruises, or puncture wounds
4. Emotional or psychological suffering – this is often the shock and emotional distress caused by the attack, or any PTSD that someone may incur from an attack.
If you want to file a suit against the owner of a dog, the first and most important thing to do is to document your losses. The best way
to assure your losses are assessed and documented thoroughly is to go seek medical assistance. Having these medical records will help an attorney or judge understand how to best address and compensate you for the attack.
Aside from the attack itself, it is illegal for an owner to allow their pet to “run at large” which is controlled by S.C. Code Ann. Sec. 47- 3-50. To clarify, an animal is “running at large” when they are off-leash and not controlled by the owner. So, regardless of the attack, if the owner was letting his dog run off leash, and was not under control of the animal, he has broken the law. If such a law is broken, the owner can be subject to a misdemeanor and a fine. Being a dog owner is a big responsibility and our laws are designed to teach that to citizens.
To further emphasize the importance of being a responsible pet owner, apartment complexes have started to follow suit by banning pets from running off-leash in the lease agreement. The consequences of breaking this rule will vary in each apartment complex, so it is a good idea to keep in contact with the management team at your apartment complex regarding the matter
QUESTION: Last year I went to have my cat’s photo taken with Santa at a local fundraiser. It didn’t go well and Terabyte scratched Santa pretty badly. He threatened to sue but I’ve never heard anything and I am still nervous. How long does Santa have to come after me and Terabyte? – Shaken in Cottageville
DAVID AYLOR: Shaken and Terabyte,
I am sorry to hear that the fundraiser did not go as you hoped.
Even though pet owners do not intend on their animals causing harm, there are laws in place in hopes of deterring such events. Pet-related incidents that cause harm to a person are governed under the statute, S.C. Code Ann. Sec. 47-3-110. According to this statute, the person harmed, here “Santa,” has 3 years from the date of the incident to act.
In other words, if this incident occurred around Christmas in 2019, “Santa” will have until around Christmas in 2022 to bring his lawsuit. For his suit, a clock with a three-year limit started as soon as the incident occurred. Once that three-year time limit expires, Santa will no longer be able to seek compensation.
I hope the best for you and Terabyte and hopefully this only results in some coal in your stocking.