Grammer v. Lucking – Injury by Dog is Not Always Bite

Most people equate dog-related injuries with a bite. But the law in South Carolina – and in several other states – allows people to seek compensation for dog-related injuries that may be caused when a dog bites or “otherwise attacks” another

South Carolina Code of Laws section 47-3-110 states such damages may be sought when that “attack” occurred in a public place or in a public place at which plaintiff was lawfully and so long as the person injured didn’t provoke the dog. Our state follows the legal principle of strict liability when it comes to dog bites, meaning it doesn’t matter whether the owner knew or should have known the dog would bite or attack.

In the recent case of Grammer v. Lucking, the Nebraska Supreme Court grappled with this issue of whether a person could seek damages for a dog-related injury, even when the dogs in question never actually bit the plaintiff. 

The district court granted summary judgment to defense, but the state supreme court reversed, saying the lower court erred in granting summary judgment before considering all relevant definitions of the terms “injure” and “chase” under state statute.

According to court records, the incident occurred in the summer of 2013, when plaintiffs were walking in their neighborhood and happened to pass defendants’ home. Two of defendants’ dogs were alone unsupervised in defendants’ yard, which had no fence. Although one dog was on a chain, the other one was not restrained.

As plaintiffs approached 20 feet from defendants’ yard, the dogs ran in the direction of plaintiffs, growling and barking. Plaintiff husband stepped in front of his wife and tried to stop the dogs from getting closer. The dog on the chain reached the end of it and couldn’t get any closer. However, the dog that was not restrained ran past the husband and toward the wife.

As the wife backed away, she stumbled and fell, suffering injury to her elbow.

At no point did either of the dogs bite, scratch or even touch the plaintiffs. After several seconds, one of defendants exited the house and called the dogs back inside.

Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit under Nebraska’s dog injury statute, which states owners face liability when their dogs kill, wound, injure, worry or chase any person or persons.

Seeking summary judgment, defendants argued the evidence would have to show the dogs were chasing plaintiff in order to harm her. District court judge agreed, saying there was no evidence either of the dogs intended to harm plaintiff because the dogs didn’t intend to catch her.

Plaintiffs appealed to the state supreme court, with a petition to bypass the appeals court, which was granted. They argued first that previous case law that interpreted the dog bite statute as precluding liability for mischievous or playful acts should be overturned. Secondly, they argued the district court failed to apply all relevant definitions of the term “chase” and failed to find these dogs did in fact chase plaintiff and did in fact injure the wife.

Although the supreme court declined to overturn previous interpretations of mischievous or playful acts, justices said it wasn’t necessary because district court never reached the issue of whether the dogs were being playful or mischievous. However, on the issue of whether the court erred in focusing on a single definition for each of the words “chase” and “injure,” the supreme court found reversal was warranted.

State high court justices did agree with lower court that dog didn’t follow plaintiff with intent to catch her. By their own account, the dog stopped chasing once she fell, and though his owner called him in shortly thereafter, the dog had enough time to reach the fallen plaintiff, if that was the intent.

Still, the court found the definitions of “chase” and “injured” were considered in such a way claimant was required to prove each one in order to recover for being chased. Instead, the court ruled, plaintiffs needed only to prove one definition for each was applicable.

Reversed and remanded.

If you have suffered a dog bit injury or other injury related to an animal chase or attack, contact us today.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Grammer v. Lucking, January 2015, Nebraska Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Bass v. DSS – S.C. Supreme Court Reinstates $4 Million Injury Verdict, Jan. 6, 2015, Spartanburg Dog Bite Lawyer Blog

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