The answer depends. SC has strict liability for dog attacks, but the SC code of laws does not address most other types of animal attacks in SC. What happens if you are attacked by a wild animal? Does it matter if the wild animal is on someone’s property where you are a guest, like a hotel or a golf course?
Animal attacks in SC are more common than you might think. Although most people think of dog bites when we talk about animal attacks in SC, many other types of animal attacks result in serious injuries and death in our state every year.
When can you sue and who is liable?
Can I Sue for Wild Animal Attacks in SC?
Alligator attacks are rare in SC – in a state with a population of around 100,000 alligators, there have been only 20 recorded attacks since 1976.
Despite this, there have been three fatal incidents in recent years. Last year, a woman and her two children were killed in a car crash caused by an alligator on the road, although that’s technically not an alligator attack.
In 2016, an elderly woman was killed by an alligator in Charleston, SC, after she fell into a pond near an assisted-living facility. Last year, another woman was killed by an alligator after it attacked her dog at a resort in Hilton Head – she grabbed the dog’s leash and the alligator dragged her underwater instead of the dog (the dog survived).
If a wild animal attacks you, who is liable?
Who is Liable for a Wild Animal Attack?
Dog bites in SC are strict liability by statute. But what about wild animals?
Every year, people are seriously injured or killed by wild animal attacks in SC including alligator attacks, venomous snake bites, spider bites, and attacks by other large animals like cows and other livestock.
If you are walking in the woods and a mother bear mauls you because you got too close to her cubs, you are probably on your own – nature happens and, unless the attack was somehow enabled by someone’s negligence, there is no one to sue.
But what if the attack happens on someone else’s property? What if you are a guest at a Hilton Head resort, for example, and an alligator drags you into a pond on the resort’s property?
Wild Animal Attacks in SC are Covered by Negligence and Premises Liability
A property is not automatically liable for a wild animal attack in SC just because the attack happened on their property. If they don’t own the animal and did not know that there was a danger, it’s just not their fault.
On the other hand, if the property owner’s action (or inaction) causes the wild animal attack, they may be liable for the injuries caused because they were negligent. If they were grossly negligent, they may be forced to pay punitive damages as well.
If a property owner is aware of an unsafe condition on their property and they fail to correct the unsafe condition or, if they are unable to correct it, warn about it, they can be sued for premises liability.
Spill on aisle ten? Didn’t bother to clean it up? If the store employees were on notice that there was a spill, did nothing to fix it, and someone slips and falls, the store may be liable for the injuries suffered in the fall.
Alligator in the pond out front? Alligators are large, meat-eating predators with lots of sharp teeth that have been known to kill and eat people on rare occasions. Do you have a duty to remove the alligator? To warn guests and the public that it’s there? Not necessarily…
What if the alligator has acted aggressively in the past? Now, do you have a duty to remove it? At least, to warn about it?
The Sea Pines Alligator Attack Lawsuit
The husband of the woman killed by the alligator at the Sea Pines Resort in Hilton Head thinks so, and filed a wrongful death lawsuit this week alleging that the resort was “grossly negligent” and breached their duty to warn the public and to take measures to prevent alligator attacks:
[The husband’s] suit, filed April 9, said both the Sea Pines Resort and Sea Pines Community Services Associates (CSA) were “grossly negligent” and “aware” of the aggressive nature of the alligator that attacked [the victim] as she walked her dog near a lagoon on Governors Lane on Aug. 20.
The lawsuit said the Sea Pines Resort and CSA violated “its own rules” for the maintenance and safety of public areas by “failing to take the steps to warn the public of an unsafe condition” and failing to take “appropriate measures to prevent alligators from attacking.”
First, as in the case of a spill on aisle ten, the property owner must be on notice of the dangerous condition – if you don’t know about the danger, you can’t be expected to fix it. This is why there is an allegation in the lawsuit that the resort was “aware of the aggressive nature of the alligator” that killed the woman in Hilton Head.
If you come to my house and a copperhead bites you in my yard, I’m probably not going to be responsible for the snake bite. But, if I know there is a nest of copperheads under the porch stairs, I do nothing to remove them or warn that they are there, and you are bitten when you sit on my porch step, then I may be responsible for your snake bite and the damage that it caused…
Wild Animals as Pets – Strict Liability
There are state and local laws that regulate the types of animals that can be kept as pets in SC. Setting that aside for a moment, what happens if a person has a pet lion that they keep in their home, and the lion escapes and eats the neighbor’s child?
The general rule is that, if you keep an animal on your property that you know is dangerous – a lion, for example – and it escapes, you are responsible. There’s no getting around the fact that a lion can seriously injure or kill a person, and strict liability will apply instead of the law of negligence or premises liability we discussed above.
Animal Attack Attorneys in Myrtle Beach, SC
If you’ve been injured by a wild animal attack on someone else’s property, you may be able to file a lawsuit based on negligence or premises liability. The attorneys at Coastal Law will help you to determine who is liable for animal attacks in SC and how to get full compensation for your injuries.
Call us now at (843) 488-5000 or fill out our online form to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.