Karen Hastings was driving on a country road in rural upstate New York when she crashed into a cow that had escaped from a farm.She sued the cow’s owners and the farm, claiming they had been careless in allowing the cow to wander. Specifically, she claimed the fence separating the pasture from the road was in bad repair.

The owners defended themselves by pointing to a New York law that said the owner of a domestic animal isn’t liable for injuries unless the owner knew that the animal had “vicious propensities” – which presumably wasn’t true of the cow here.

The case went all the way to New York’s highest court, which sided with Karen. It said the law about “vicious propensities” might make sense in the case of an attack by a pit bull, but it wasn’t applicable to farm animals escaping from a field.

According to the court, farmers have a legal duty to keep livestock enclosed, and to be careful that they don’t escape and cause a danger on the highway.

South Carolina law allows for an injured person to recover when an owner of livestock is negligent in keeping the animal(s) secured. So like the New York case, a South Carolina farmer can definitely be held responsible for a wandering cow.

CA-dogs.jpgAs for dogs, in South Carolina there is a misconception often held by the public of something called the “one bite rule.” Under this rule, a dog owner would not be liable of injury to another by a dog bite unless the owner knew of the dog’s vicious propensities. One way to have known of the dog’s vicious propensities is for the dog to have at least once before bitten another person in the past, hence the name “one bite rule”. However, there is no “one bite rule” in South Carolina. A dog is treated as property in South Carolina and each dog owner is responsible for the actions of their property (dog) whether the dog had previously bitten someone or not. There is strict liability for the actions of your dog. The only way to avoid responsibility is if the dog had been tormented or teased by the injured person immediately prior to the attack (i.e. by poking a stick or throwing rocks at the dog in order to provoke the animal.)

I (Russell) have seen some very serious injuries caused by dogs that have either been life ending or life changing events with years of surgeries to address the injury. Homeowners need to check their insurance policy to verify if their dog is covered by insurance or not. Many homeowner’s policies have begun to exclude coverage for injuries caused by certain breeds of dogs or any type of dog. You may either purchase a “rider” to cover such dogs or you may have to shop around for insurance companies that will cover dog bites.

Sources: Legal Matters, Russell Guest