Liability for injuries inflicted by a dog in South Carolina can exist under two different legal theories.  The first is strict liability, which does not require a showing of fault.  The second theory, negligence, does require proof that the dog’s owner was careless.  This article explains the differences between these two types of dog bite claims. 

Strict Liability

What is strict liability ?
A South Carolina statute, S.C. Code Section 47-3-110, holds dog owners in the state strictly liable for injuries caused by their pet. Strict liability means that the owner is automatically liable to the injured person. The only exceptions to that rule are that an owner is not strictly liable to a trespasser on the owner’s property, nor is an owner strictly liable if the injured person provoked the aggressive act on the part of the dog.
Even where strict liability applies, the injured party will still need to prove that they were hurt and the nature and extent of any compensatory damages they are claiming as a result of their injuries.
Can anyone besides the dog’s owner he held strictly liable?
Even a non-owner can be held strictly liable under the statute if they were exercising custody or control of the dog at the time of the attack, as in the case of a long-term custodian or caretaker.
Does the dog have to bite for strict liability to apply?
The dog does not actually have to bite the injured party for strict liability to apply. All the injured person needs to prove is that the dog acted aggressively toward them, causing some type of injury. For example, if a dog aggressively lunges at someone and causes them to lose their balance and fall, the owner will be held strictly liable for any injuries sustained.
Does strict liability apply to police dogs?
Strict liability does not apply in the case of bites or injuries caused by properly trained dogs used in law enforcement, unless excessive force was used by the handler or the dog, or in the case of injuries suffered by an innocent bystander.


When is a dog owner considered negligent?
A person bitten by a dog can also pursue a negligence claim against the owner. There are a number of different ways to try to prove negligence against a dog owner. Typical theories are that the owner negligently failed to keep the dog penned or restrained, or that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had aggressive tendencies because of previous bad behavior. A negligence claim requires the Plaintiff to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the owner failed to use due care in connection with their dog, thereby resulting in injury to the Plaintiff.
Punitive damages may be available.
In addition to compensatory damages, punitive damages are available if the Plaintiff can show that the owner’s actions went beyond mere negligence, and instead were reckless, wilful or malicious.