WHEN IS AN ANIMAL’S OWNER LIABLE FOR DOG BITE INJURIES IN ILLINOIS?
Dogs can be wonderful companions. However, before anyone gets a dog, they should fully understand the liability risks dogs present and get adequate amounts of insurance as well. This is because a dog bite or attack can result in severe, permanent, and life-threatening injuries to victims. This was illustrated recently in an incident that took place in a suburb on the north side of Chicago. In September 2019, a man came to a home to provide a tree-trimming estimate, but when he got out of his truck, he was viciously attacked by the three dogs owned by the family. The man suffered severe wounds to his face, arms, and legs, and he was nearly killed.
Confusion exists about when and to what extent the dog owner is responsible for these types of tragic incidents. Is the owner liable for injuries caused by their dog even if the dog never displayed any dangerous tendencies? What if the animal was a rescue dog, and the owner was unaware of the full extent of the dog’s bite history? As a result, it is important to understand how Illinois law addresses dog bite liability in these cases.
The Illinois Animal Control Act
In some states, a dog’s owner is only liable for injuries caused by their pet if they were aware that the dog was aggressive or dangerous. The laws in these states are often called “one bite free” laws since the owner will often not be held responsible for the first time their dog bites someone. However, Illinois is not one of these states. The law in Illinois is very different, and dog owners can be liable even if their family pet has never attacked anyone.
Specifically, the Illinois Animal Control Act (510 ILCS 5/16) states that if a dog or other animal attacks, attempts to attack, or otherwise injures someone without being provoked, the owner “is liable in civil damages to [the victim] for the full amount of the injury” caused by the animal. This is true regardless of whether the animal had previously bitten someone or displayed aggressive behavior.
As a result, the major issue that can relieve the dog owner of liability for his or her dog biting someone is if the victim was not conducting themselves peaceably. For example, a dog’s owner would not be liable if their pet attacked someone who was trespassing on private property. In the incident described above, the victim had been invited to the person’s home to conduct business, so the dogs’ owners can likely be held liable for the injuries the man suffered and any other damages he experienced.
Contact a Chicago Dog Bite Injury Attorney
Whether a dog bite is severe or relatively minor, it can lead to painful and disfiguring injuries that can affect a victim for years to come. Extensive and costly medical treatment may be required, including multiple plastic surgeries to address the scars left behind by an attack. Sometimes, in these types of cases, the victim suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder following these types of incidents as well. Nightmares, anxiety, emotional outbursts, and depression are all symptoms that can severely impact the quality of the victim’s lives post-incident. Indeed, many clients have reported that emotional injury has been the most difficult part of coping with an attack of this nature. The emotional trauma can result in loss of income, or they may be temporarily or permanently disabled, leading to the loss of future earnings.
As a result, people that are attacked by animals often sustain significant economic and non-economic damages. Dog owners must understand this when they decide to purchase their pets. Since they are potentially facing significant liability, responsible pet owners should obtain adequate insurance as well. Many people do not know that their homeowner’s liability insurance policies can provide insurance coverage in these types of incidents. As a result, it is important to carry sufficient insurance and to make sure you pay your premiums in a timely manner. This is because the untimely payment can lead to a denial of insurance coverage when you need it most.
Illinois Dog Bite Law
A dog bite victim in Illinois can recover compensation under a special statute and the doctrines of negligence, negligence per se, scienter, and intentional tort.
- Landlord liability
- Emotional distress
- Pending legislation
- Litigation forms and other materials for attorneys
- If your case involves injury to a dog, see When a Dog Is Injured or Killed
The State of Illinois has a statute that makes the owner, harborer or keeper of any will animal control take my dog for biting (whether or not a dog) liable for injuries to people, whether or not caused by a bite, without negligence on the part of the defendant. Although the dog bite statute uses the word “owner,” the term is defined as “any person having a right of property in an animal, or who keeps or harbors an animal, or who has it in his care, or acts as its custodian, or who knowingly permits a dog to remain on any premises occupied by him or her.” (510 ILCS 5/2.16.)
The relevant part of the Animal Control Act is as follows:
If a dog or other animal, without provocation, attacks, attempts to attack or injures any person who is peaceably conducting himself or herself in any place where he or she may lawfully be, the owner of such dog or another animal is liable in civil damages to such person for the full amount of the injury proximately caused thereby.
A dog bite victim can bring a claim against a dog owner based upon the foregoing statute. Additionally, a victim can reach owners and other potential defendants, such as the custodian of the dog, on the ground of negligence or negligence per se.
In a negligence action, the plaintiff must provide sufficient facts showing the existence of a duty owed by the defendant, a breach of that duty, and an injury proximately resulting from the breach. Vesey v. Chicago Housing Authority, 145 Ill.2d 404, 411, 164 Ill.Dec. 622, 583 N.E.2d 538 (1991). Negligence may consist of doing something unreasonable or unreasonably failing to do something, such as warning. It also may consist of violating a statute or ordinance which, if followed, would have prevented the accident; this is referred to as negligence per se. (Mangan v. FC Pilgrim & Co., 336 NE 2d 374, 572 (1975).) Examples of negligence are legion; see Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA for details.
In Illinois, a dog bite victim can hold a residential property owner and its agents liable for a dog attack if it occurs in a common area, not a part of the premises that has been rented or leased. “[A] landlord owes no duty to a tenant’s invitee to prevent injuries proximately caused by an animal kept by the tenant on the leased premises if the landlord does not retain control over the area where the injury occurred.” (See Mangan v. FC Pilgrim & Co., 336 NE 2d 374 (1975) [landlord liable for tenant’s injury when she fell because of the sudden appearance of a mouse in the rented apartment; held that the landlord owed the plaintiff a duty to keep those portions of the premises over which it retained control in a reasonably safe condition to prevent injury to people who were lawfully present on the premises. Also, see Klitzka ex rel. Teutonico v. Hellios (2004) 810 NE 2d 252, 259.)