Dog bite and provocation

The Chicago attorneys at Zneimer & Zneimer handle numerous dog bite cases, and have seen many cases where the bite was  not solely the dog’s fault.   Dogs are living beings who can feel startled, stressed, or in a threatening situation and can try to defend themselves by barking or biting.  Dogs have loved ones and may try to protect their puppies.  Illinois law recognizes that dogs are feeling, living creatures, and puts the burden on the dog bite victim to show that he or she was conducting himself or herself peacefully and did not provoke the dog.  The Illinois Animal Control Act provides that the dog owner is “liable in civil damages” to the victim if the dog “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…”  (510 ILCS 5/16).

The Animal Control Act does define what is “provocation”.  Because the statute does not define the term, the courts give the term its ordinary and popularly understood meaning within the purpose and objective of the statute. The purpose and objectives of the Animal Control Act are to “encourage tight control of animals in order to protect the public from harm. . ..” Wilcoxen v. Paige, 174 Ill. App. 3d 541, 543 (3d Dist. 1988).  Because the law applies to all dogs, it measures the provocation from the perspective of a fictional normal dog, and not from the vantage point of any one specific dog. Provocation is a question of whether the victim’s conduct would upset a normal dog to react the way the specific dog reacted.  Such fictional dog is average and “neither unusually aggressive nor unusually docile.” Kirkham v. Will, 311 Ill. App. 3d 787, 794 (5th Dist. 2000). A normal dog may react to violent conduct, and in reacting a normal dog would act proportionally.

A normal dog may be provoked by kicking, pulling the dog’s ears, pulling on the dog’s tail, hitting the dog or other abusive conduct.  A normal dog would not react violently if there is no violent contact with the dog.  A normal dog would not be provoked by petting.  Even if justifiably upset, a normal dog would not act disproportionately.  Any dog that reacts disproportionately to is not a normal dog and is therefore not legally provoked. For example, screaming at a dog may be upsetting to the dog, but screaming alone that causes a dog to bite, would usually be disproportionate reaction, and not provocation.

Dogs give loyalty, companionship, and friendship among other benefits. Dogs can feel, love, protect, and get upset.  Each dog has its own personality and not every dog measures to the fictional normal dog.  That is why owners should ensure proper care and control, and people should respect the animals and try not to provoke them.

However, if you have conducted yourself peaceably but a dog attacked you, the law makes the dog owner responsible for the harm.  If you have been injured by a dog bite and need help contact the dog bite Chicago attorneys at Zneimer & Zneimer PC.

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