We have discussed the various issues surrounding dog bite injuries before, but what if a dog is involved in an incident where no bite occurs whatsoever? For example, what happens if your dog knocked someone over? A dog can knock down a senior citizen and cause severe injury that needs medical attention, chase someone until they trip and fall, and people can even suffer psychological harm from feeling threatened or intimidated by a dog. Even if a dog is not known as an aggressive dog but as a friendly dog, incidents can happen where people get hurt. Whether the incident involves a large dog or a small dog, animals can intentionally or unintentionally cause incidents that lead to the types of injuries that will result in medical bills like broken bones, head injuries, etc.
All of these incidents do not include a dog bite, and yet a lawsuit remains a possibility in each instance. The specifics of whether or not the lawsuit will be successful are a matter of legal technicalities, and a personal injury lawyer can help you navigate the process.
You may be thinking to yourself, “A dog owner can’t possibly be liable if the dog didn’t even bite someone,” but you would be mistaken. Dog incidents that did not involve bites can still be legally considered attacks, and even without an attack, you can still be found liable through premises liability or other avenues. We have represented several people who sustained severe orthopedic injuries because an unrestrained dog flew out of a residence to charge a dog owner lawfully walking her dog.
What is the Letter of The Law in Dog Injury Cases?
Illinois law states that dog owners can be liable for damages when their dog “attacks, attempts to attack, or injures” a person with no provocation as long as the person in question was lawfully permitted to be in the place where they were injured. We normally refer to this in the context of Illinois dog bite laws, but notice that the word “bite” is not explicitly stated. There are some states which use the word “bite” in their statutes, effectively precluding lawsuits from other types of dog attacks or dog attack attempts. However, in Illinois, liability for dog accidents and attacks is much broader, so you can be in legal hot water for a wider range of incidents than in some legally stricter jurisdictions.
Generally speaking, for an individual to be liable in a dog attack that does not involve a bite, the dog bite would have to cause an injury. It is even possible to be held responsible for psychological trauma resulting from an attack. Plaintiffs may have an uphill battle in a case involving psychological trauma, as it may be difficult to prove that the dog's actions caused the trauma. If you are experiencing PTSD following an dog attack, it is important to obtain professional help. Proving that a dog is responsible for an injury involves proving that the dog was the proximate cause of the injury.
Proximate Cause in Dog Injury Cases
In order for you to be legally liable for a dog injury, the dog must be established as the proximate cause of the injury. This can be difficult to establish in many cases. In cases where the dog has bitten a victim or directly knocked someone over by tackling them to the ground, establishing proximate cause is straightforward and simple. Otherwise, the waters start to get a little bit murky.
Proximate cause simply means that the event is sufficiently related to an injury that the court deems the event to be the cause of the injury. Judgments regarding proximate cause are, at the end of the day, subjective. Arguments will have to be made and heard by the court to establish a dog as the proximate cause of an injury in any given case.
An example will help here. Let’s say that a child is riding a bike and collides with a dog that is walking around on the sidewalk. In this case, the dog is the proximate cause of the injury but establishing that the dog owner was negligent will be the issue.
The essential question is whether the dog’s behavior was the reason for the injury, i.e., the injury would not have occurred in the absence of that behavior. Obviously, this is not a dog bite prevention guide, but there are a few points I would like to make all the same. Firstly, as has been evidenced in many cases, if a person suffers an injury, it makes little difference whether they were running alone on a trail, with or without permission from the landowner, or whether they were at home innocently watching television.
The fact of an injury is enough to trigger a search for causative factors, and many times those causative factors are attributed to the dog, often without sufficient proof. In many cases (such as the above example) the actual dog did not even make physical contact. Physical contact can be important and makes dog injury cases simpler, but you can still be liable for damages even without that contact.
Dog Attacks and Dangerous Propensity
If the owner of the dog knows that his or her dog has a dangerous propensity, either because the dog has attacked in the past or because something about the dog's breed or condition indicates that he is likely to become dangerous (such as being old, unmanageable, or having a defective temperament), then the owner is liable for any injuries caused by the dog, regardless of where the injury occurs.
However, in other states, an attack or bite from a known dangerous dog does not give rise to a cause of action unless the victim was trespassing on the owner’s property. In these states, the key is whether the victim caused the dog to act in a manner in which he would not have otherwise acted. Thus, a child who is riding a bicycle and sparks the dog into action is liable, but the same dog attacking while on a leash at its owner’s feet would indicate a dangerous propensity and the owner would therefore be held to a standard of strict liability.
Strict Liability or Negligence?
Generally speaking, pet owners in Illinois are held to a standard of strict liability if their dog causes an injury. Illinois is a strict liability state when it comes to dog attacks. This means that owners are generally held liable for any injuries even if they could show that they exercised reasonable care in controlling and restraining their dogs. In the case where the owner knew the dog was prone to uncontrolled aggression but allowed him to roam free, the owner would be found liable for a bite injury even if they could show that the victim was trespassing on their property.
In Illinois, owners are expected to keep their dogs under control and are considered responsible for the actions of their dogs. Owners do not have to have acted with negligence to be considered liable for their dogs' actions and injuries that may have resulted from those actions.
If liability were based on a standard of negligence, as it is in a few states other than Illinois, the court would attempt to assess whether the dog owner had acted negligently. Negligence, as a legal concept, essentially means a person has acted with a lack of attention, care, or necessary precaution. The standard of negligence exists in order to avoid situations where a person is found liable for something which was entirely out of their control and their reasonable ability to foresee the possible consequences. As stated above, Illinois does not operate under this standard. Instead, the state legislature opts to prioritize the strict responsibility of dog owners for everything that their dog does in order to avoid circumstances where a victim goes uncompensated and incurs financial damages in addition to psychological or physical injury.
Getting Professional Legal Guidance
You may believe that non-bite dog incidents are not eligible for lawsuits, but you would be mistaken. Liability for dog attacks and instances of dog behavior resulting in injury qualify for legal action in the state of Illinois. Whether your reasons are personal, communal, or both, you should seek legal advice from the dog bite lawyers at Palermo Law Group.
For years, the attorneys at the law firm of Palermo Law Group have been helping dog bite victims in Oak Brook and throughout the Chicagoland area as they navigate their way toward monetary compensation for their damages. We can help you navigate the legal process, communicate with insurance companies, and seek the compensation you deserve. Contact Palermo Law Group today for a free consultation about your claim.