Almost everyone in Chicago and throughout Illinois has had a dog or a neighbor with a dog. Though our memories are full of fond recollections of the happy, loyal and friendly pets, there are some dogs that become aggressive and bite. When a bite occurs, a Chicago dog bite lawyer helps you recover fair compensation.
Dogs become aggressive for various reasons and it usually is not the dog’s fault. They may have abusive and neglectful owners or have been trained to be aggressive. Poor dog training can lead to bites ranging from the very minor to life threatening.
We have all seen news stories of aggressive dogs mauling children and the elderly. When a dog bights someone, the owner is almost always legally responsible under Illinois law.
Though many people think a dog owner is only responsible for hospital bills, this is not the case. Illinois law provides for compensation for all the harm a bite causes.
The owner is not only responsible for medical bills, but also for pain and suffering, lost employment, disfigurement and mental anguish. Moreover, the State of Illinois or City of Chicago may punish the owner and place sanctions on the dog.
This article will first discuss what is called civil liability for a dog bite. Civil liability is what most people think of when they use the term “suing someone.” In a civil case between private individuals, an injured person asks the court to award them money (lawyers use the term “damages”) as compensation for various categories of harm. In Illinois, there are two theories of legal responsibility; claims for negligence and claims for violating the Illinois Animal Care and Control Act.
After addressing the most important facts relevant to a civil case for a dog bite injury in Chicago, we will lay out the standard process, from attempting to settle a dog bite case all the way through trial.
Finally, this article will briefly touch on what might happen to a dog that bites if the City of Chicago, County of Cook, or State of Illinois chooses to take action against the dog.
Civil Liability: Two Theories of Responsibility for Dog Bites for a Chicago Dog Bite Lawyer to Review
Responsibility Under the Illinois Animal Care and Control Act
Typically, when a Chicago dog bite lawyer is reviewing a case, he or she will almost always first look to the Illinois Animal Care and control Act as a path to financial recovery.
The Animal Care and Control Act is attractive because it imposes strict liability on dog owners for injuries caused by their animals. This means that the injured person does not need to prove that the owner acted carelessly or knew of the dangerous nature of the dog. Further, the Act does not even require a bite – it applies to all injuries caused by domestic animals.
The relevant language of the Animal Care and Control Act is as follows:
Animal attacks or injuries. 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.510 ILCS 5/16
Who is the owner of the dog?
In Illinois, the dog owner is responsible for a dog that injures someone. Often the identity of the owner is clear, but sometimes the identity is unknown or is complicated. In cases with an unknown owner, an investigation is necessary to see if it is reasonably possible to determine who the owner is. Often dogs have tags or micro-chips identifying their owner. Other times a dog bites someone when it is in the possession of a third party or when it is not clear who (among known people) actually owns the dog. In these cases determining the responsible person involves investigation of the facts as well as application of legal principles.
Was the injured party legally allowed to be at the location where the bite happened?
Trespassers generally cannot successfully sue owners for dog bites. If a person climbs a fence and ignores a warning sign before getting bit, it is unlikely that they will win a lawsuit. In contrast, a mailman walking to the door has a right to be on the property, if he is bitten he likely has a valid lawsuit. Dog bite cases often have complex facts relating to the location where the bite took place. Many times children are involved and are bitten while on the neighbor’s property. These cases usually lead to varying contentions as far as permission to be on the land. A lawyer will help you determine the likelihood of a valid case.
Did the injured party provoke the dog?
If a person provokes a dog and gets bitten, they probably aren’t going to win a lawsuit. Provocation can mean many things. If a child beats a sleeping dog with a stick and gets bitten, that is pretty clear evidence of provocation. However, if a victim accidentally steps on a dog or yells at the dog’s owner before getting bitten, a jury will likely have to decide whether the dog was provoked.
Responsibility for Negligence
Civil Liability: Important Factors in all Dog Bite Cases
What is the extent of the harm?
Dog bites can range from annoying to fatal. An aggressive Yorkie may cause slight pain or even puncture the victim’s skin. If attacking a small child, even a small dog can cause serious injuries such as finger amputation, scarring, infection or blindness. With larger dogs, the potential for injury greatly escalates. Large dogs can cause nerve damage, amputations, major scarring, pain disorders, emotional trauma and death. In a dog bite lawsuit, the extent of the harm is directly related to the financial recovery sought. An injured party is entitled to money to compensate them for their past medical bills, pain and suffering, scarring, disfigurement, loss of employment, loss of normal life and future medical bills.
If the bite results in the death of the victim, the next of kin (usually the closest family members) are entitled to a monetary award for the loss of their loved one by bringing a wrongful death lawsuit. In addition to wrongful death awards, the estate of the victim may also bring what is called a survival lawsuit for the harm they suffered prior to death. In Illinois, the monetary award is ultimately decided by a jury if no settlement is reached.
What is the possibility of financial recovery?
One very important factor to consider when evaluating a dog bite lawsuit is the potential to be paid the money a jury awards you. A person harmed can only be paid from whatever assets the person who is at fault has. In this day in age most people have few assets and would likely become bankrupt if a jury awards substantial money to the victim. This being said, the normal source of money for a victim is the insurance of the at-fault person. Generally a good homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policy will cover liability due to dog bites. In the vast majority of cases a person owning a home will have $100,000.00 in liability coverage, though savvy people often have more. In rare cases the at-fault party may have substantial assets or may be a corporation with a very high amount of insurance. In those cases the victim may be able to recover the full amount awarded by the jury. This factor is often overlooked by victims, especially when they are rightfully angry at the dog owner. A dog bite lawyer will help you consider all factors, including this one, when deciding whether to settle, file a lawsuit, go to trial or whether any award is likely at all.
Will the court order the dog put down?
In Illinois lawsuits for dog bites, and most other injuries, are a request for money to compensate the victim for the harm caused by the at-fault party. The injured party does not have the right to force the owner to have their dog put down. That said, there are other proceedings in which dangerous dogs will have restrictions put on them or may be destroyed.
The Illinois Animal Control Act
The Illinois Animal Control Act is one of the laws in Illinois that allows the government to take action to protect the public from animals. Here are some of the key provisions related to dogs:
- Dogs found to be running at large may be impounded and destroyed if reasonable attempts to determine and notify the owner have failed.
- Dogs that bite a person shall be confined for observation for rabies by the Cook County Bureau of Administration
- The County Administrator, State’s Attorney or a citizen of the county may file a complaint in circuit court asking that a dog be adjudicated vicious. The animal may be ordered confined during the proceedings and, if deemed vicious, the owner may be fined. The animal may also be ordered enclosed, neutered, or euthanized.
- The County Administrator may deem a dog dangerous. If deemed dangerous, the owner may be ordered to have to dog microchipped, pay a fine and have the dog neutered. The Agency may also order that the dog is only allowed in public if muzzled and accompanied by an adult.
- The Administrator may deem any dog running at large with three other dogs a “potentially dangerous dog” and may require the dog neutered and microchipped.
City of Chicago Dog Bite Laws
The City of Chicago has passed laws relating to animals collectively referred to as the animal care and control ordinances. They regulate many aspects of animal ownership in Chicago and are in addition to the Illinois Animal Control Act, below are some highlights related to animal safety.
- Dogs must be leashed when not confined by a fence on the owner’s property. Violations can result in fines and the possibility of imprisonment.
- Stray animals will be impounded.
- An animal may be deemed dangerous after citizen complaint or report of bite, attack or threatening behavior. If the animal is deemed dangerous, it may be destroyed. If not destroyed, the animal will be ordered confined, muzzled and leashed while in public, neutered and microchipped. Moreover, the owner will be ordered to place a warning sign on the property as well as obtain liability insurance for each dangerous animal. Additionally, the animal may be required to attend obedience training and may be barred from the city.
- The owner of any animal that bites someone or another animal shall notify the Executive Director of Animal Care and Control, confine the animal for observation, and pay any costs associated with impoundment.
The Illinois civil justice system as well as Illinois statutes and Chicago ordinances provide remedies for the victims of dog bites and have procedures to help insure that dangerous dogs are safely kept or euthanized by the government. If you would like to schedule a free consultation with a Chicago dog bite lawyer to learn more about dog bite law and whether you have a valid claim, contact us to set up an appointment.