Illinois Animal Control Act: Understanding Owner Liability for Dog Bites

It’s an obvious truth that Americans love dogs, from internet animal “influencers” to beloved household pets. However, while dogs are frequently loyal and trustworthy companions, they are also animals, and even loving animals can surprise owners by biting unexpectedly. 

Unfortunately, dog bite incidents have the potential to be incredibly serious. While minor cases will be nothing more than some broken skin and quick healing, a dog bite has the potential to lead to much more serious consequences, including infection, mental or emotional trauma, and even the amputation of a limb.

In the case of a dog bite incident, it’s vital to be familiar with the relevant legal facts regardless of whether you are the animal’s owner or the victim. This article will explain everything you need to know about the legal facts for dog bite cases in Illinois.

Liability vs Negligence 

Naturally, the legal details of dog bite cases vary from state to state. While some states require that the victim prove that the bite was a direct result of the owner’s negligence, Illinois is a strict liability state. 

Under Illinois law 510 ILCS 5/16, a victim does not need to prove that the dog’s owner failed to behave responsibly. The owner is automatically legally liable if their dog (or other animal) “without provocation, attacks…or injures any person who is peaceably conducting himself or herself in any place where he or she may lawfully be”. 

This means two things. First, the only dog bite case where an owner isn’t legally responsible is if the victim directly provoked the attack. Second, owners are liable in any case where someone is injured by their animal, not just bites (for example, an unleashed dog knocking over an elderly person and causing them to fall and hurt themselves).

Definition of an “Owner” and Their Responsibilities

In Illinois, a dog owner is defined as “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.” This means you can be counted as a dog’s owner even if you are just dog-sitting for the weekend. Several Illinois statutes give essential rules for a dog’s legal owners (or caretakers).

  • Statute 510 ILCS 5/2.05a defines a potentially dangerous dog as one that is anywhere other than the owner’s property and is not muzzled, leashed, or otherwise restrained.
  • Statue 510 ILCS 5/2.11a says all dogs on private property must be contained by a fence at least 6 feet tall to prevent children from wandering close to a dog. Lastly, a reckless dog owner is one who allows their pet to escape their property, resulting in damage or injury. 

Common Injuries and Responsibilities 

As we briefly mentioned before, the outcome of a dog bite or injury can have a wide range of severity. Below is a list of common possible damages organized (roughly) from least to most severe:

  • Bruising
  • Lacerations
  • Puncture wounds
  • Broken bones
  • Emotional and psychological trauma
  • Nerve damage
  • Spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries
  • Loss of limbs
  • Rabies
  • Death

It’s worth noting that emotional trauma is in the middle of the list because it covers a wide range of outcomes, from a temporary increase in stress after the incident to lasting phobias or PTSD symptoms.

Depending on the nature of the injuries, owners can be held responsible for medical bills, disfigurement, or lost wages due to injuries. They can also be responsible for financial payments for psychological distress, depending on the severity claimed by the victim. 

Possible Defenses

We’ve mostly covered the issue from the victim’s perspective, but it’s also worth including relevant legal facts for dog owners. There are generally two possible defenses for an animal-owning defendant: provocation and trespassing.

  1. As mentioned earlier, an owner will not be liable if the dog bite was triggered by the victim provoking the dog in some way, like taunting or physically striking the dog, thereby causing the dog to bite. 
  2. Trespassing involves cases where the dog owner has done their due diligence to restrain the animal or keep it within an appropriate fence, and the bite results when the victim enters the owner’s (and the dog’s) property without consent.

Turn to Pullano & Siporin for Legal Representation in Your Dog Bite Case

If a dog has injured you or a loved one or if you are the owner of a dog that has hurt someone, the vital first step is to contact a trustworthy attorney with experience in personal injury. That’s where Pullano & Siporin comes in.

Our team of expert attorneys has a combined decades of experience in the field of personal injury, with cases ranging from dog bites to medical malpractice to construction site accidents and more.

As top legal practitioners in the Chicago area, we make it our policy to put our client’s needs first and will fight tooth and nail to ensure that you and your loved ones receive the compensation you deserve.

If you have a potential legal case impending, don’t hesitate to contact us today to find out how we can help.

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