How to File a Dog Bite Lawsuit in Illinois

    If you have ever been the victim of a dog bite injury, you have probably considered filing a personal injury lawsuit against the owner. Before deciding to go this route, it is crucial to understand the specific laws regarding dog bite lawsuits in the state where the accident occurred. As a personal injury lawyer in Illinois, I am very familiar with the ins and outs of these laws. The following article will provide some helpful information for dog bite victims who are considering whether to file a dog bite lawsuit in the state of Illinois.

    The So-Called “One-Bite” Rule

    One of the foundational principles of strict liability in common law is known as the “one-bite” rule. This principle asserts that a dog owner will only be held strictly liable for injuries his dog causes if there is sufficient evidence to show that he knew or should have known that his dog had the propensity to bite or otherwise engage in vicious behavior. For example, if a dog has bitten or attempted to bite someone in the past, this will provide sufficient evidence that the owner should have been aware of the dog’s dangerous propensity and as such, should have taken the appropriate actions to prevent violent behavior.

    Illinois Dog Bite Law

    Illinois state law does not adhere to the “one-bite rule,” for dog bite cases. Illinois law regarding dog bite liability when someone’s dog bites an individual is codified at 510 ILCS 5/16. This statute specifically states that if a dog (without provocation) attacks, attempts to attack, or injures any person who is peacefully conducting himself in any place where he may lawfully be, the owner of such dog will be liable in civil damages to such person for the full amount of the resulting injuries. It is important to note that liability can attach to either the actual owner of the dog or the person who was in control of the dog at the time of the attack.

    Because Illinois personal injury law does not embrace the “one-bite rule,” there is no need to show that the owner knew or had reason to know the dog was dangerous or had the tendency to bite in order to recover damages. Rather, based on the language of the aforementioned statute, you would need to prove the following three elements:

    • The dog attacked, attempted to attack, or otherwise injured you
    • You had a lawful right to be in the place where the incident occurred
    • You did not provoke the dog

    Statute of Limitations

    Lawsuits for dog bite injuries are a type of personal injury lawsuit in the state of Illinois. According to 735 ILCS § 5/13-202, a person has two years from the date the cause of action accrued to bring a personal injury claim in Illinois. As such, Illinois’s dog bite statute of limitations means that a person has two years from the date the dog bite incident occurred to file a personal injury claim based on this incident.

    Types of Available Damage Awards

    Some of the most commonly awarded damages in personal injury cases are special compensatory damages and general compensatory damages.

    Special Compensatory Damages

    Special damages are awarded to compensate for any monetary expenses stemming from an injury. The theory behind these types of damages is to make an injury victim “whole” for any expenses incurred or for money lost due to the incident that caused their injuries. These types of damages are awarded on a case-by-case basis and there is no limit to the types of special damage claims that can be made, or to the amount an injured party can claim. Some of the more common types of special damages include:

    • Loss of current earnings
    • Loss of future earnings
    • Medical expenses
    • Cost of future medical care

    General Compensatory Damages

    General damages are awarded to compensate for any related non-monetary damages incurred in an injury claim. These types of damages provide compensation for the type of harm that is typically or “generally” sustained in an injury. The most common types of general damages are:

    • Pain and suffering
    • Mental anguish
    • Loss of consortium/companionship

    Steps to Take Immediately After You are Bitten by a Dog

    If you get injured in a dog bite attack, you should immediately take the following steps regarding wounds you have sustained:

    • Stop the wound from bleeding by applying direct pressure to it with a clean, dry cloth.
    • Wash the wound using mild soap and warm, running water. Make sure you rinse the bite for three to five minutes.
    • Apply antibacterial ointment to the wound. This is crucial, as it can help reduce the risk for infection.
    • Apply a dry, sterile bandage over the wound.
    • If you were bitten on your neck, head, face, hand, fingers, or feet, call your health provider immediately, you may need to go the emergency room.

    There are some additional steps you should consider taking if you plan on filing a personal injury lawsuit for your injuries:

    • Report the incident to your local animal control office or the police department (especially if you are unsure of whether the dog has a current rabies vaccination).
    • If possible, before you leave the scene of the incident, get the name and contact information of the dog’s owner or the person who was in control of the dog at the time of the attack, as well as the contact information of anyone who may have witnessed the incident.
    • Take photos of your injuries, if possible, for your insurance company.
    • Keep and do not wash any clothes you were wearing when the attack happened (this could be helpful later in court).
    • Retain copies of any medical bills and receipts from any other dog bite-related expenses you have incurred.
    • Write down everything you can remember about the incident, making a note of where it happened, who appeared to be in control of the animal, and what you did immediately before and after the attack.
    • Consider hiring a personal injury attorney.

    Filing a Lawsuit in Small Claims Court

    Once you get the estimated costs for any medical treatment or other expenses stemming from the incident, you can then file a dog bite lawsuit against the dog owner or any other responsible party to receive compensation for these costs. If your estimated costs are less than $10,000, you can file a dog bite claim against the owner in an Illinois small claims court. To do so, you must complete the following steps:

    • Go to the courthouse of the county where the defendant lives or where the incident occurred. The small claims court clerk will supply you with the necessary forms (a complaint form and a summons) to begin the lawsuit.
    • List your name as the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit).
    • Make sure you have the correct name and address of the defendant (the person you are suing). If for whatever reason the papers can’t be delivered to the defendant, you might have to start over and pay additional fees.
    • List the amount of money you are requesting as damages. Remember, because you are in small claims court, you can only request up to $10,000.
    • Include a brief explanation about why you are suing the defendant.
    • The clerk will assign a number to each small claim case. Write down this number and refer to it in all dealings with the clerk and sheriff.
    • All relevant forms must be filed with the court. Please note that you will be charged a filing fee, which must be paid in advance.
    • Copies of the forms must then be delivered to the defendant, typically by regular or certified mail if the defendant lives in that county. The court will also mail the forms for you if you choose, but you will need to pay a fee for this service.

    If you need more detailed information regarding the small claims court filing process, please click here.

    Some Considerations to Make Before Filing a Lawsuit in Small Claims Court

    Before an injured person decides to go through with a lawsuit, there are important considerations you may need to make, some of which include:

    • Most personal injury cases based on dog bites are handled outside of the courtroom. As such, it may be more beneficial to contact the liable party and attempt to resolve your claim without having to go to court. Doing so will likely save you a lot of time and money.
    • Consider whether the liable party even has the kind of money you are asking for. If that person does not have the kind of money you are requesting, it may take a long time for you to collect from him, even if the judge rules in your favor.
    • Small claims judges can only order a judgment for money; they cannot require a person to either do something or refrain from doing something.

    Were You Recently Bitten by a Dog? Speak to an Illinois Dog Bite Attorney

    If you or a loved one were recently bitten in a dog attack or other animal attack and are interested in filing a dog bite lawsuit, the Palermo Law Group is here to help. Mario Palermo is an experienced dog bite lawyer and will fight to hold the responsible party accountable and help you get the compensation you deserve. Please contact our law firm today at (630)-684-2332 or use our online form to speak with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys.


    Mario Palermo is the Founder and Lead Attorney at Palermo Law Group in Oak Brook, Illinois. For the past 23 years, he has worked tirelessly to help injury victims and their families in their times of need. He is a seasoned authority on civil litigation, and also a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, a prestigious group of trial lawyers who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. Mr. Palermo has been named a “Leading Lawyer” by his peers in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

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