What you Can Expect Legally if Bitten by a Dog in Illinois

Illinois has strict laws when it comes to dog bites and other injuries caused by an animal. Dog bites are usually the last thing that people think of when they are around dogs, especially if the dog belongs to someone they know, or if the dog looks like a “friendly dog”. The reality is that there are approximately 4.7 million dog bites reported annually in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and according to the Humane Society, most dog bites involve dogs who have not been spayed or neutered.  There are approximately 90 million dogs in this country, which should come as no surprise given how often we all run into dogs as we go about our lives. I have even seen dogs kept at law offices as office pets. Since it is impossible to know when a dog is going to attack, it is always best to be cautious around dogs, especially an unfamiliar one. As with all animals, dogs can behave unpredictably. Dog bites should be taken seriously and medical attention sought.


The “One Free Bite” Rule Does Not Apply in Illinois 

Laws surrounding dog bites vary from state to state. You may have heard about the “one bite” rule that says that each dog gets one free bite before the owner can be held liable, because before a particular dog has bitten someone, the owner has no way of knowing that their pet is dangerous. This is not the law in Chicago, nor anywhere in the State of Illinois. In Illinois, we have much stricter laws in terms of holding a dog owner responsible if the dog bites someone, or even injures them without an actual bite. While there are some defenses, the pet owner is legally liable any time that their dog causes an injury, even if the dog has always behaved well in the past. The reasoning given by our judiciary for the higher standard in Illinois is “to encourage tight control of animals in order to protect the public from harm” and as an incentive to keep one’s animals from harming others.  Beggs v. Griffith, 393 Ill.App.3d 1050, 1054 (2009) quoting Wilcoxen v. Paige, 174 Ill.App.3d 541, 543 (1988).

The Illinois Animal Control Act

The Illinois Animal Control Act, as it is known, actually applies to any animal or pet, not just dogs, and states:
“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 animal is liable in civil damages to the person for the full amount of the injury proximately caused thereby”.

Breaking Down the Illinois Law on Dog Bites

In order to be successful in a claim or lawsuit for a dog bite in Illinois, the victim must have been acting peacefully before the attack. While this is subject to interpretation, most of us know the difference between someone who is just standing there and someone who is provoking a dog with a baseball bat. Keep in mind that the provoking of the dog can also be accidental, as would be the case if someone steps on the dog’s tail by accident. This would count as provoking the dog and the person bitten could then be barred from recovering anything from the owner.

The victim also has be someplace that they have the right to be, before he or she can hold the dog owner liable. A burglar who breaks into someone’s house would not be protected by the Animal Control Act and could not sue the owner if he gets hurt or bitten while robbing their house. However, someone who is bitten at someone else’s house can still bring forth a claim or a lawsuit if they were invited or known to be there, as is the case with guests, contractors, postal workers, newspaper carriers, maids, utility workers, etc. Also, if a dog owner takes their pet to any public place such as the beach, park or sidewalk; they can be responsible if their dog bites someone.

Illinois  law also defines what it means to be the owner of an animal. According to Illinois law, an owner is anyone “having a right of property in an animal, who keeps or harbors an animal, or who has it in its care, or acts as its custodian, or who knowingly permits a dog to remain on any premises occupied by him or her.” (Feral cat caretakers may be exempt). Notice that “owner” is not being used in the traditional sense of the word. Illinois law gives a broader meaning, likely to cover people who have just “taken an animal in” and perhaps haven’t decided if they are keeping the dog yet. They would not be off the hook if the dog bit a visitor. It also holds responsible caretakers of the animal. In an interesting case out of DuPage County, Illinois, the court did not hold a dog’s actual owner liable when a little girl was bitten by a dog at a bus stop when she tried to pick up the dog which had just escaped from an employee of the veterinary clinic that the dog was staying at, despite the fact that the girl’s injuries were serious and required three surgeries over an 8 year period. Hayes v. Adams 2013 IL App (2d) 12068. Perhaps the girl’s family would have been able to recover if they also sued the vet clinic.

Damages from the dog bite “proximately caused thereby” in layman’s terms, means that the injury has to have actually been caused by the dog’s actions itself. For example, if you saw a dog unexpectedly and it scared you and you then ran away from the dog and hit your head on a pole, the injury to your head was not proximately caused by the dog. If the dog bit you in the leg and it got infected, that is a ‘proximately caused’ injury. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. A lawyer can help you understand the causation issue if you think you may have a case after being bitten or otherwise hurt by a dog.

Illinois law holds a dog’s owner liable for civil damages. This means that the pet owner won’t face criminal charges and will likely just need to provide monetary compensation to the dog bite victim. Currently, there is no damage cap or limit to the amount of money a dog bite victim can get.  Assuming that you have been injured by an animal and are eligible to recover under the Illinois Animal Control Act, you might be able to receive compensation in a lawsuit for the following:

  • Medical Bills spent to treat the dog bite or other injuries from an animal. These bills can include current and future bills, in addition to the medical bills you already have.
  • Property Damage- for example, if the dog ruined your jacket during the attack.
  • Lost Wages or Income- this would apply if you had to lose time from work directly related to the animal attack or if you expect to miss work in the future. Usually this is time that was lost to go to the doctor.
  • Pain and Suffering- this is a general way of compensating dog bite victims for everything that they had to go through and may continue to go through. This can include emotional trauma like being afraid of dogs after the animal bite, or having nightmares afterwards.

It is prudent to seek medical attention and take photographs after a dog bite or other injury caused by an animal. It might not look serious but it is best to seek the opinion of a health-care professional before an infection or other medical problem sets in. If the injury turns out to be serious, you may consider legal action. Give us a call at 630 250-8813 to discuss what happened and learn your various options before you decide to move forward with legal action after a dog bite.

What if it was my friend’s dog that bit me or my child?

It is natural to be hesitant about taking legal action against a friend, if is their dog that bit you or your child. They probably feel awful about what happened, and you don’t want to ruin the friendship. That being said, however, the reality is that you might be faced with high medical bills and lasting consequences. If you believe that you have a solid case, you may want to balance the pros and cons of bringing the legal action. Bringing a claim may not necessarily mean having to file an actual lawsuit, as many times cases settle before having to go to court. Can you afford not to pursue it? Keep in mind that all consequences of an animal attack are not always immediately apparent.

Does an Dog Owner’s Insurance Cover Dog Bites?

In Illinois, homeowners who have a mortgage are required to have homeowners insurance, and most policies will cover legal liability for a dog bite or other animal attack, as will many renter’s policies.

What is my next step to pursue a claim for a Dog Bite? 

Do not wait to talk to a lawyer following a dog bite or other animal attack in Illinois. It takes time to investigate the facts, prepare a case for the best possible outcome, attempt out of court negotiations, and if necessary, to prepare a lawsuit against the dog owner or caretaker. A lawsuit must be filed within two years or else you are completely out of luck.

Dog bites are always unpleasant and can sometimes be dangerous or even disfiguring for the victim. They should be taken seriously and in some cases, legal action is entirely appropriate. If you or your child has suffered a serious dog bite and have sought medical attention, at O’Connor Cadiz Law, we can discuss the legal options available to you in Illinois. Give us a call to set up  a no obligation, complimentary strategy session.

Carol O'Connor Cadiz
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Attorney & Owner at O'Connor Cadiz Law: Injury & Accidents, Disability Insurance.