Amy Lawrence: Hey everyone. Welcome to the Carolina Justice Report sponsored by South Carolina Law TV and The Lovely Law Firm. I’m attorney Amy Lawrence, and I’m here with my husband, Justin Lovely. Thank you Justin.
Justin Lovely: How you doing?
Amy Lawrence: Today we’re going to talk about dog bite cases, not something that we actually do quite a bit here in this office, and Justin does quite a bit. Justin, tell us about dog bite cases and how they’re different.
Justin Lovely: Well, obviously, it’s a personal injury case and that’s one of the areas that we practice here. A dog bite case in South Carolina is different from like a car wreck or a slip and fall in that our animal bite statute in South Carolina is a strict liability statute. Essentially, what that means is a lot of the times, with some exceptions, we don’t have to really worry about proving liability. We’re simply arguing over damages. Sometimes in these a dog bite cases they can be severe.
Justin Lovely: Obviously, all our staff is trained to work up the dog bite investigation the way it’s supposed to be properly done. That involves working with the animal control officer and DHEC, the Department of Health and Environmental Control, here in South Carolina to get their report and any kind of investigation that they’ve completed. And then from there we coordinate the medical treatment like an injury case and work to get the case settled.
Amy Lawrence: Awesome. Now the American Academy of Pediatrics says that 5% of all emergency [inaudible] dog bite related, which that just sounds kind of crazy to me, but it’s true. What are some of the scenarios that we see in this office, with dog bite cases, and especially kids?
Justin Lovely: With kids? Yeah. Now kids, obviously, we see children attacked by a neighbor’s dog. We see children who may walk up to a dog. The dog is not familiar with the child. The dog may perceive the child as maybe another animal or not necessarily the dominant animal in the room. And so, they could attack, or bite, nip at them. Of course, children are attracted to dogs. They’ll see a dog, they’ll walk up to a dog walking the neighborhood and try to pet it, and the next thing you know, it’s not familiar, and the dog bites the kid. I agree with that number. I’d say that number is probably even more than that, just due to the amount of numbers that we see, especially down here at the beach.
Amy Lawrence: Yeah. It’s crazy. When I was a little girl, and you’ve heard this story a hundred times, but when I was a little girl, my baby sister had gotten home from school, and she’s four years younger than me. I think she was five, so I was about nine or 10 at the time. A neighbor’s dog came up in the yard, and she said, “Hey, there puppy,” and the dog attacked her. She ended up going through getting graphs on her hands, and stitches, and all that stuff. It’s hard. It’s really hard, especially on our babies when we see that happen. It breaks our heart. Now we often-
Justin Lovely: Yeah, and the big-
Amy Lawrence: Go ahead, baby.
Amy Lawrence: Sure.
Justin Lovely: … pierce the skin, you’ve got the crush damage, and then you may have some scarring if there’s some significant lacerations. Sometimes they’re going to get a tetanus shot, the child, obviously. But then you’ve really got to watch the kids, because we’ve had several cases where infection sets in. If you don’t keep an eye on it, then they’re a surgical candidate, because they’ve got to go in there, a doctor have to go in there and do a debridement procedure, and that’s very painful for a child, obviously, very traumatic for a child.
Justin Lovely: But it happens a lot, and people don’t think it could happen. I mean, we have dog bites that are really bad from chihuahuas and small, little breeds. And then, obviously, we have the big, vicious breeds, the pit bulls and things like that you would think of when you would think of a dog bite. But it could really be any kind of dog can hurt a child bad.
Amy Lawrence: Yeah, absolutely. You were talking about vicious propensity, vicious dogs, what does vicious propensity, what does that mean? Does that affect the case? Does it help? Does it not help?
Justin Lovely: Well, here’s the deal. Some states have a one-bite rule in their jurisdiction or whatever. That means you really can’t bring a case unless you can affirmatively show there was a vicious propensity of that particular animal. In South Carolina, it doesn’t matter. We don’t have a one-bite rule. It can be the first bite can give rise to a cause of action as long as we have damages that were caused by the animal.
Justin Lovely: The one issue we do see, and the biggest issue with these cases, it’s not the bite itself, it’s finding insurance applicable to pay the loss. And that’s from the person, whoever’s in the care, custody and control of the animal. And so, when we talk about vicious propensities, something that we’ve been seeing lately are these exclusions in homeowners coverage, where for vicious breeds, they’ll say, “Hey, pit bulls, we’re not paying on it. We’ll pay for a dog bite, but we’re not going to pay for a bite by a pit bull.” You can’t have a pit bull, you can’t have a Rottweiler or whatever they determine in the policy to be a dangerous breed.
Justin Lovely: Well then, we’ve got to always see, “Well, is it a true pit bull? Is it a mutt of some sort? Is it some other kind of hybrid dog? We get into those kind of scenarios and try to get the coverage for the injured person. But, definitely, a vicious breed definitely plays a role in it. Obviously, a bite by a pit bull, in the eyes of a jury, is different from a bite by a little, fluffy Maltese. Like Busy, our dog.
Amy Lawrence: Right.
Justin Lovely: Definitely, that plays a role in it, as well.
Amy Lawrence: Yeah. I know that we have a lot of people that when they come in, they don’t want to … Oftentimes, they, or their children, or someone in their family has been bitten by, not their dog. It’s never their dog. It’s always their neighbor’s dog. And one of the issues that comes up is nobody wants to sue your neighbor. How do we help facilitate and get people without ruining that relationship with their neighbors?
Justin Lovely: Right. That’s something that we’ll have at the initial consult. We’ll definitely have that discussion. Of course, it depends on the circumstances, right? That’s the famous lawyer, “It depends”, the lawyer answer. But, it does depend. I mean, here’s the deal. If one of my neighbors, this is just me talking, but if one of my neighbor’s dogs bites my kid, I’m going to sue them. Of course, I’m a lawyer saying that. But anybody says that. We’ve got to protect your child, and we’ve got to protect you, first.
Amy Lawrence: Right.
Justin Lovely: Now, if it’s very minor damages, and there was no skin pierced, nobody’s really hurt, and you just don’t want to pursue it, and you’re going to value the friendship or the neighborly love over the damages, then, I mean, that’s the second conversation that we’ll have. But, I mean, I tell this to my clients, “We’ve got to take care of you. We’ve got to take care of your family, first, and then we’ll worry about your neighbors.” Because they’re the ones, their negligence led to the bite.
Amy Lawrence: Right. I also tell people all the time, because we have this vision if we’ve never had to sue anybody, and the majority of us in the world haven’t, is that we’re going to take somebody’s home. But that’s not the case. What we’re doing is, we’re going after that homeowners policy, which is why we have insurance to begin with. We have a ton of insurance on our [inaudible] just in case we were to hurt somebody, around our home, in case it were to happen. A lot of times we tell people, “We’re not going after their home, their 401k, their bank accounts. We’re just asking for the insurance company to do what they bought that insurance for.” It’s not about going after the neighbor’s personal assets, it’s just about going after the insurance policy so that your family member who’s been hurt in a dog bite case can be taken care of.
Justin Lovely: Yeah. Early on in a case, that’s what people don’t understand, as well, we’re not necessarily going to court on day one. We set up a claim against the homeowners policy, and hopefully, they have a homeowners policy applicable that will cover dog bite attacks. And from there, obviously, we wait until they’re done treating and then submit a demand against the homeowners policy. Pre-suit, so nobody’s in court, there’s no depositions or anything yet. A lot of times, because we do have a great law, the strict liability law in South Carolina, we can get the injured person compensated without ever having to go to court.
Justin Lovely: Now, there are times when they want to fight us on something or they want to low ball the injured person, and then our hands are tied. We’re going to file suit and proceed through the litigation process. But, again, you’re not trying to take their home. We are trying to get the case worked out for the limits in most circumstances.
Amy Lawrence: Right. There’s always exceptions to the rule.
Justin Lovely: Because every case is different. But we’re trying to at least get the limits of coverage on the available applicable homeowners policy.
Amy Lawrence: Yeah. Kids and children are by and large the victims that we see in this office. We do have adult victims, of course, but children is like the most common dog bite victims that we see. What happens when your child is in your neighbor’s yard, and the neighbor’s dog bites them? Are they still liable?
Justin Lovely: Well, yeah. Absolutely. Any dog in South Carolina, it depends on whose care, custody and control that dog falls under. We’ve had this case where you have a relative staying at another relative’s home down here at the beach, but they bring along their pit bull. Then they walk their pit bull. They’ve been staying there for a month. Well, guess what? That homeowner has been feeding the dog, allowing the dog to stay there. Now, coverage applies, because that dog is essentially under the care, custody and control of that neighbor. Definitely, if it happens in their yard that would happen.
Justin Lovely: But it doesn’t have to be in their yard. I mean, they could be walking the dog down the street. They live two doors down. We simply have to investigate with DHEC and the animal control officer and figure out where’s the applicable homeowner, where does he live, and is there a policy? There’s a little bit of investigation that we have to do, but we hunt all interested parties down and pursue whatever we have to.
Amy Lawrence: If someone out there has been bitten by a dog or somebody in their family has, what can they do to get a hold of us, Justin?
Justin Lovely: Oh, it’s easy. Just give us a call. You can reach out here, comment on any of our videos, or just call us at 843-839-4111, shoot me an email. We handle these all throughout the state and all the time. They kind of pick up during the summer when everybody’s outside. But we’ve got a steady stream of these, and we get pretty good results for our clients. Every case is different. We’d be glad to help you, or at least take a look at it, give you some advice, put you in the right spot.
Amy Lawrence: Awesome. Well, thanks so much. If you’ve been hurt by a dog, give us a call, 843-839-4111.