The cardinal rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and effectuate the intent of the South Carolina Legislature. A court will give words their plain and ordinary meaning, and will not resort to a subtle or forced construction that would limit or expand a statute's operation.
A sheriff's deputy kenneled his police dog at a veterinary clinic while the deputy was on vacation. The deputy and the sheriff's office knew that the dog had a recent history of multiple unprovoked attacks. While kenneled at the clinic, the dog attacked the veterinary assistant in an unprovoked attack, severely injuring the veterinary assistant. The veterinary assistant sued the sheriff's office in the Anderson County Circuit Court (South Carolina), asserting claims under S.C. Code Ann. § 47-3-110 (1987) and negligence. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The circuit court granted summary judgment for the sheriff's office. The veterinary assistant appealed.
Was the summary judgment in favor of the sheriff's office proper?
The grant of summary judgment in favor of the sheriff's office was reversed, and the matter was remanded to the circuit court for trial. The state supreme court, construing the language of S.C. Code Ann. § 47-3-110 (1987), found that a person injured by a dog could pursue a claim against the owner of the dog when the injury occurred while the dog was in the care or keeping of another. The South Carolina Legislature made a policy decision to hold dog owners strictly liable when the dog bit or otherwise attacked a person who was lawfully on the premises, except when the injured person provoked the attack. The Legislature further statutorily imposed liability on those who assumed the care or keeping of a dog. Thus, the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of the sheriff's office.