Illinois Dog Bite Liability

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The personal injury lawyers of Zneimer and Zneimer P.C. have handled many dog bite cases and most are governed by the Illinois Animal Control Act.  Historically, under common law,  a dog was allowed “one free bite;” which meant that a dog owner was not liable for injuries caused by a bite if that dog had never bit anyone else.  More recently, the law has evolved so that a dog owner will only be liable if he if his negligence caused the injury.  The “one free bite” rule and negligence standard are common in many jurisdictions throughout the country, but not in Illinois.  Illinois is one of the few states that have passed laws that apply strict liability to dog owners whose dog bites a victim.  The Illinois law is helpful to victims of dog bites and now Illinois ranks second to California, in the number of dog bite claims brought per year.

Strict liability for dog bites is contained in the  Illinois Animal Control Act. The Act eliminates the “one-bite rule” which required a victim to plead and prove that dog owner either knew or was negligent in not knowing dog had propensity to injure people.  While strict liability does apply, there are two defenses that a dog owner may bring in a dog bite case: provocation and trespassing.  Under the Animal Control Act, if a dog is provoked there can be no recovery for a dog bite injury.  The provocation does not have to come from the victim of the attack in order for the defense to apply.  Courts have looked at provocation through the eyes of the dog; the question is whether or not an average or reasonable dog would have been provoked under the circumstances.  Would a normal dog in similar circumstances have reacted in a similar manner?  Courts in Illinois have ruled that petting or greeting a dog does not constitute provocation nor does a child screaming at a barking dog.  This means if a person would expect an average dog not to bite them in a given situation/circumstance then provocation will not apply.  Attorney, Peter Zneimer has handled cases where the dog bite victim was attempting to pet a dog when bitten.  Courts in Illinois have ruled that the mere act of petting a dog is not provocation and will not bar recovery.

The second defense to strict liability for a dog bite is trespassing.  The Animal Control Act states that a victim will be able to recover if they are “in any place they may lawfully be.”  That means visitors to a dog owners home will be able to recover as long as they are lawfully there.  Additionally, those who are in control of the dog (ie. Dog walkers or care takers) cannot recover if they are bit as they are considered the “owner” under the Animal Control Act.

Dogs provide companionship and unconditional love.  However, keeping a dog also requires responsibility.  If you have been hurt by a dog, the owner will generally be responsible for your damages.