Guide: Who is Responsible for Dog Bite Medical Bills?

    Dog bite injuries have a wide range of severity, lasting consequences, and medical costs. The most common injury is, of course, a bite, and bites can range from minor cuts to severed arteries and serious blood loss. But there are many other types of injuries that might be less obvious. For example, a dog attack can cause someone to slip and fall – leading to head injuries, hip fractures, and many other ailments. Dog attacks may also cause serious psychological damage, requiring mental health treatment for months, years, or even decades. Some people never truly recover from their injuries after dog bites and have to seek medical attention years later – suffering serious, life-altering disabilities. 

    The most important question is obvious: Who pays for these terrible injuries? The answer depends entirely on the situation, as many different individuals may be held accountable, including the owner of the dog, or a property owner. The most important thing to remember is that you should not be required to pay for your medical expenses out of your own pocket. If the dog attack was caused by someone else’s negligence, you have every right to pursue legal action and have them pay for your medical bills. This is often one of the few ways to pay for medical treatment in Illinois, which certainly is not cheap. Far from being frivolous lawsuits, dog bite claims are necessary for victims to heal and move on with their lives as best as possible. So, who is responsible for your medical bills after a dog attack, and how can you hold them accountable?

    Determining the Negligent Parties

    Illinois dog bite laws clearly state that dog owners can be held strictly liable in a dog bite case if the attack is unprovoked and the victim is not trespassing. “Strict liability” means that defendants are always liable – even if they were technically not negligent or at fault for the accident. If someone owns a dog who injured someone else, they are on the hook for the victim’s medical bills – no matter what, so long as the victim was not provoking the dog or trespassing.. Intent does not matter. It does not matter how careful the owner was or whether they took every possible step to train the dog against attacking people. 

    Illinois has no “one-bite” rule, which means that even if the dog never attacked anyone in the past, the owner is still liable. In many other states, the one-bite rule means that owners are only liable for second attacks against people. The logic is that owners should not be held liable until they become aware that their dog poses a risk to other people. Illinois does not follow this logic, making it a true strict liability state regarding dog bites.

    In addition, Illinois applies the legal definition of the term “owner” quite broadly. In this state, an owner could be a dog walker, a pet owner, a kennel employee, a veterinarian who is temporarily looking after a dog, or even a landlord. Many of these parties have considerable homeowner’s insurance policies or liability insurance for personal injury lawsuits. This means that if you name them as defendants, the dog owner’s insurance policies could cover your damages without much fuss. An individual pet owner might not have the necessary funds to cover your expenses, and they may not have insurance coverage for dog attacks. Although you could certainly take them to court, there may be no point, unless you can receive the compensation you need to cover your medical expenses. 

    Another potential defendant is the landlord or property owner, who carries insurance for these kinds of incidents. However, landlords are only liable under the dog bite statute if they are “harboring” the dog. From there, it is usually just a matter of negotiating a settlement with their insurance provider rather than going through a time-consuming, stressful trial. Of course, each dog attack is different – and it may be more advantageous to sue different defendants depending on your unique situation. 

    What Kind of Injuries Might You Suffer From a Dog Attack?

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    Just like any other type of animal attack, dog attacks can lead to a wide range of injuries:

    • Bite wounds: Perhaps the most obvious injuries stemming from dog attacks, bite wounds can alter people’s lives forever. Even the most minor bites can cause serious damage. In serious cases, arteries may be severed, and serious blood loss can occur. Depending on the location of the bite, ailments may include organ damage, tissue loss, nerve damage, shattered bones, or even amputations.
    • Skull fractures: A bite to the head can be quite serious, especially if children are attacked. Even in attacks involving adults, serious skull injuries can occur if the dog’s jaws are large enough to wrap around the entire head area. In some cases, teeth can penetrate the skull and enter the brain. There have been rare cases of depressed skull fractures due to bites to the head. 
    • Falls: Even if a dog never actually bites you, it may still cause serious injuries by pushing you over. Elderly individuals are especially vulnerable, as even a minor fall can cause fractures, head injuries, and other serious injuries. Hip fractures are especially common with elderly victims. It’s worth noting that even if a dog is not aggressive, it can still knock victims over when jumping up excitedly. This still constitutes a dog attack, and the owner can still be held strictly liable. 
    • Eye injuries: Dog attacks can cause blindness and other eye injuries. 
    • Infections: Some of the most serious dog attacks are accompanied by infections. When the teeth penetrate the skin or bone, bacteria present in the dog’s mouth can cause a range of infections, including rabies, tetanus, sepsis, and many others.

    Disfigurement is Handled Differently than Other Injuries

    It’s worth mentioning that disfigurement is handled differently, as this type of injury affects a person’s psychological and physical well-being. The economic damages associated with this injury may involve plastic reconstructive surgery, the use of prosthetic limbs after amputation, and much more. These financial expenses are combined with the psychological damages associated with disfigurements, such as loss of self-confidence, extreme depression, and even suicidal tendencies. As a result, dog bites involving disfigurement often involve much higher settlements. 

    Compensation for Wrongful Death After a Dog Bite

    The most serious “injury” after a dog bite is death. Dog bites can be fatal in a number of different ways, including deadly infections after bites, extreme blood loss, catastrophic head injuries, and bites that penetrate the chest and affect vital organs. Compensation for wrongful death claims may involve unpaid medical expenses left by a loved one on their deathbed. For example, your family may have received expensive surgery after a dog bite as a life-saving effort. Despite the best efforts of the surgeons, your loved one may have still passed away. Despite this, you are still on the hook for those unpaid medical expenses, which is why it is so important to file a wrongful death claim against a negligent owner or landlord after a dog attack. 

    Determining Maximum Medical Recovery

    When determining the full cost of your medical treatment, it is often best to wait until your Maximum Medical Recovery – also known simply as “MMR.” When a victim reaches their MMR, it becomes clear that their condition will not improve any further. At this point, you can accurately predict medical expenses you may incur in the future. For example, doctors may tell you that there is a chance you could walk again after devastating dog bites to your legs. After months, it may become clear that recovery is not actually possible. At this point, you can accurately predict the cost of being limited to a wheelchair for the rest of your life. 

    Who Pays for Bills Related to Psychological Treatment?

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    Psychological treatment may be required after a dog bite. For example, you may need to speak with a mental health professional to get over crushing anxiety and PTSD after the incident. These appointments may be required for months or even years after your attack. Some victims require mental health treatment for the rest of their lives. So who pays for these expensive appointments? These costs may be classified as medical expenses, or they may be lumped in with your non-economic (psychological) damages. 

    Other Damages Aside From Medical Bills

    Remember, medical bills represent just one example of damages you might incur after a dog bite attack. There are also many others to consider, including:

    • Missed wages
    • Non-economic damages
    • Pain and suffering

    A qualified dog bite lawyer can help you pursue all of these damages. 

    Where to Find a Qualified Dog Bite Attorney in Illinois

    Taking legal action after a dog attack in Illinois is easy. Just get in touch with the law firm of Palermo Law Group for legal advice at your earliest convenience, and you can move forward with a sense of confidence and efficiency. Over the years, we have assisted numerous dog attack victims in Illinois, and we know how costly your medical bills can be after such an incident. You should never have to pay your own medical bills out of your own pocket if you were victimized by a negligent dog owner or landlord. 

    Book your free case evaluation with a personal injury attorney today, and we can help you strive for positive results. Remember, Illinois has strict laws when it comes to dog bite victims that make it relatively easy to receive the compensation you need to cover medical expenses, missed wages, emotional distress, and much more. The statute of limitations may prevent you from taking legal action, so get in touch today for a free consultation and get started with an effective action plan. 



    Mario Palermo is the Founder and Lead Attorney at Palermo Law Group in Oak Brook, Illinois. For the past 26 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, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

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