Dog Bites and Personal Injury in South Carolina LawMark Clore ·
In the case of Hossenlopp v. Cannon, 329 SE 2d 438 (1985), the South Carolina Supreme Court made a historic decision regarding the nature of how personal injury from dog bites is treated. When the incident occurred, the boy was playing in his babysitter's yard. The dog charged towards him and grabbed him by the ankle and leg, causing personal injury.
A complaint was filed on behalf of a four year old boy who had allegedly been attacked by a dog owned by the defendants. The dog attack led to no less than 19 bite wounds which required surgery and hospitalization. Negligence was claimed on behalf of the owners for keeping a dangerous animal and having knowledge of the dog's dangerous tendencies, failing to restrain the dog and allowing it to roam at large which was a violation of the law.
The judge presiding of the trial granted summary judgement in favor of the child on the basis of liability. The judgement was based on affidavits and depositions. Determination of damages for the personal injury were left to the jury to decide. However, the dog owners appealed and argued that there was a genuine issue regarding whether they had previous notice of the dog's tendency to bite.
At the time of this case, the law around dog bites stated that owners of tame pets were not responsible for damages, except if the wounded party could prove that the animal was vicious and that vicious nature was known or should be known by the owner. So the owner could be held liable for keeping a dangerous animal without knowing it has dangerous tendencies or failing to keep it from harming people. What's more, allowing a dog to run off the owner's property was unlawful and supported the finding of negligence.
Back to the Case
The defendants claimed they had no prior notice of their dog's dangerous side, despite the fact there was an affidavit claiming the dog had bitten another child previously. One of the dog owners then admitted he treated a six year old boy after the dog bit the boy. The owner also admitted that he struggled to keep the dog within his yard as the dog could climb over the fence. The court found the owner's admissions as sufficient knowledge of the dog's propensities. The court also found that the current law was outdated. The law, referred to as "first bite free", held that dog owners were only liable for second and subsequent bites. However, the court found it unfair for owners to escape liability and adopted the California rule, which states that owners are liable for all dog bites, regardless of the dog's propensity to be vicious and regardless of negligence. This "rule of strict liability for dogs" sustained the court's ruling and changed the nature under South Carolina law for future dog bite claims.
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