Victims of dog bites almost always ask the same question: “What kind of laws does Illinois have regarding dog bites?” It is important to understand how Illinois handles these situations, as it is not worth moving forward with legal action if you do not even have a chance of success. Fortunately, Illinois has rather strict laws regarding dog bites, and owners can be held liable with relative ease. Of course, it is not as simple as that. Each situation is different, and the law may apply differently based on specific circumstances.
You owe it to yourself to research this matter further and determine your chances of success. The rewards could be well worth the effort, as you may be entitled to financial compensation that covers your medical expenses, missed wages, emotional distress, and any other damages you might have incurred. If you simply accept these losses without putting up a legal fight, you could face a lifetime of financial pressures. Your dog bite may have left you disfigured or disabled, preventing you from living the life you knew before or even earning an income. The psychological damage of a dangerous dog attack can be permanent in some cases. It makes sense to hold the animal’s owners and any other negligent parties accountable for everything they have put you through. But what are the dog negligence laws in Illinois?
Illinois Dog Bite Law: The Animal Control Act
Illinois lays out its stance on dog bite liability in the Animal Control Act. Although the following text might sound confusing, it makes sense to consider the exact wording of the law:
“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 other animal is liable in civil damages to such person for the full amount of the injury proximately caused thereby.”
The most important takeaway is that dog owners can be held liable for the actions of their pets, and they are responsible for paying victims the full amount of any injuries caused by these attacks.
What is Negligence?
Negligence is a very specific legal term. To receive compensation for your injuries, you must prove that the defendant was negligent. In most personal injury cases, there are four main elements of negligence:
- Duty of Care: The defendant had a legal duty to act in a safe manner
- Breach of Duty: The defendant failed to act in a safe manner
- Causation: The defendant’s failure led directly to your injuries
- Injuries: You suffered real injuries as a result of the defendant’s negligence
In dog bite cases, the most important step is to prove that your injuries are legitimate. This is because it is much more challenging to receive a settlement if you suffered only psychological injuries due to your dog attack. However, even minor injuries can form the basis of a personal injury lawsuit.
For example, you might have been knocked over by a large dog, causing a few bruises but nothing more. During the attack, the dog may have snapped at you – causing you to fear for your life as you desperately pushed its jaws away from your throat. In this situation, you should still seek medical attention for your scrapes and bruises as soon as possible. You should also get a doctor’s note and ensure that your injuries are carefully detailed in your medical records.
When you are an injured person getting medical attention, you are essentially creating evidence that the dog bite actually happened. In the above example, the psychological distress caused by the dog bite is much worse than the physical injuries. You may have been left with severe anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Even though the cost of your medical expenses is minimal, these damages still form the foundation for your claim. You can then use this foundation to claim additional, non-economic damages.
Who Can Be Held Liable?
Another important aspect of the Animal Control Act details who may be held liable. The obvious defendant would be the owner of the pet, and you can certainly sue these individuals for the actions of their dogs. However, the strict liability law does not only apply to direct owners and the dog bite doesn’t have to occur on the dog owner’s property. Landlords and other individuals may also be held accountable for dog attacks under certain circumstances, as the definition of the term “owner” is actually quite broad under Illinois law.
The exact definition of ‘owner’ is:
"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."
This might include dog sitters, dog walkers, or anyone tasked with looking after the animal. Whether the dog bit the victim in a public place or on private property, it’s likely that someone will be found liable.
What Kind of Injuries “Count” Under Illinois Law?
You can sue for a wide range of injuries caused by dogs in Illinois. These include dog bites, but also fall injuries associated with being knocked over. Some dogs may also cause severe injuries due to scratching. In addition, you can sue for disfiguring facial scars caused by dog bites. In these situations, the payouts are often significant because of the psychological, permanent consequences of disfigurement. Finally, family members can file wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of their loved ones killed by dogs.
Illinois’ Animal Control Act clearly states that the owner of virtually any animal with dangerous propensities can be held strictly liable. Other violent animals may include mountain lions (pumas), leopards, bobcats, lynxes, cheetahs, and perhaps most notably, wolves. Although it is against the law for the average citizen to own these animals in Illinois, considering they are not domestic animals, there may be owners who are willingly breaking the law. In addition, some people get special permission from the Department of Natural Resources to own such animals.
Illinois is a Strict Liability State
In normal personal injury lawsuits, you might be required to prove that the defendant had a duty of care and breached this duty of care. You may also be required to prove causation. But because Illinois is a “strict liability” state regarding dog bites, this is usually unnecessary as dog owner liability is pretty cut and dry in Illinois. Because of how the Animal Control Act is written, the owners of a dog are almost always fully liable for any attacks carried out by their pets. In other words, they are automatically considered negligent, and you do not need to prove anything besides the existence of the dog attack and your own injuries. Note that this is not true in many other states.
The One-Bite Rule
While researching dog bite lawsuits, you may have heard about something called the “one-bite rule.” This rule states that if a dog was never violent in the past, an owner might be able to escape liability for a first-time attack. This can make it very difficult for victims to receive compensation for serious injuries after dog bites. The good news is that Illinois does not follow this rule, and dog owners can be held fully liable for first-time dog attacks.
How Owners Typically Try to Defend themselves Against Liability
There are several potential defense strategies for owners and insurance companies facing dog owner negligence claims. The most obvious is to pin it on someone else, such as a landlord. Another common defense strategy involves claiming that the dog attack was provoked. Under Illinois, injured victims cannot file a claim if they provoked the animal before the attack. Examples might include prodding the animal with a stick or trespassing.
How Much Can I Get for My Dog Bite Claim?
Your settlement will be calculated based on both your economic and non-economic damages. The typical maximum payout of an average insurance policy ranges from $100,000 to $300,000. According to data from 2016, the payout for a dog bite injury claim is $43,343. However, verdicts approaching $1 million are not uncommon, especially if the case goes before a jury.
Where Can I Find a Personal Injury Lawyer in Illinois?
After a dog causes injury to your or someone you love, it is often a difficult time to go through. If you have been searching for a qualified, experienced dog bite attorney in Illinois, look no further than Palermo Law Offices. Over the years, we have helped numerous dog bite victims. We know that vicious dog attacks can cause various damages, including disfigurement, PTSD, anxiety, and disability. You deserve the right to hold negligent parties accountable for everything you have been forced to endure. By taking legal action, you make your community safer and eliminate the threat of future dog attacks by sending a clear message to owners across the state. The good news is that Illinois has very strict dog attack laws, making it easy for victims to seek the compensation they deserve.
But despite Illinois’ tough stance against any negligent owners of the dog, you still need help from a qualified personal injury attorney if you want to strive for real results. Book your consultation today, and we can assess your unique situation before recommending the best course of action. The statute of limitations can prevent you from suing if you wait too long, so get in touch today to schedule a free consultation.