If A Dog Attacked Me, Do I Automatically Get a Settlement?
Many people mistakenly believe that South Carolina’s victim-friendly dog bite laws guarantee a settlement in these cases. Alas, that’s not the case. Insurance companies often bicker about the amount of damages. For example, if victims don’t immediately see doctors, insurance company lawyers often later argue that their injuries are exaggerated. Liability (legal responsibility) disputes are even more frequent, even in strict liability cases. More on that below.
Dog bite settlements topped $1 billion in 2022. So, insurance companies are willing to pay big money to resolve strong cases. However, insurance company lawyers are very thorough. They care nothing about what’s right or fair. Instead, they’re willing to do almost anything to reduce or deny compensation to victims. An equally thorough Columbia dog bite lawyer works hard to ensure maximum compensation for your serious injuries.
Assumption of the Risk
Many pet owners believe a “Beware of Dog” or other warning sign gives them dog bite liability immunity. That’s not the case. Instead, such warning signs only make the assumption of the risk defense easier to prove in court.
In South Carolina, this common premises liability (dog bite, swimming pool drowning, and fall) defense has two basic elements:
- Voluntary assumption of
- A known risk.
The seat belt defense, an offshoot of the assumption of the risk defense, sometimes applies in a few car crash cases. The principle is the same. According to this defense, victims who don’t buckle up are legally responsible for their own injuries.
Initially, insurance company lawyers must establish the basic elements of the assumption of the risk defense, usually during a pretrial hearing. In addition to proving the owner displayed a sign, lawyers must also prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the victim saw the sign, could read the sign, and could understand what the sign meant.
These elements are difficult to prove, especially if the victim was a young child. Young children often can’t read two-syllable words, like beware, very well. Even if they can read them, they often don’t fully understand their meaning.
If a judge concludes the defense might apply, and insurance company lawyers properly present it to jurors, the jurors must divide responsibility on a percentage basis. South Carolina is a modified comparative fault state. If the tortfeasor (negligent actor) was at least 51 percent responsible for the injury, the victim receives a proportionate share of damages.
This defense, which applies in both negligence and strict liability claims, also involves a two-step legal process.
First, insurance company lawyers must convince a judge that the victim provoked the animal. In this context, provocation is generally an intentional and physical act. People cannot move fast or act scared and therefore unintentionally provoke dogs. Furthermore, again in this context, “provoking” an animal is more like “torturing” an animal. Words alone usually aren’t provocative.
If the judge rules the defense is admissible, jurors must divide responsibility between the pirates, as outlined above.
Connect With a Savvy Richland County Lawyer
Injury victims are entitled to significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Columbia, contact the Marc Brown Law Firm. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no money or insurance.