Dog Owner Not at Fault When Neighbor Slips
It is well established that under the Illinois Animal Control Act the owner of an animal is legally responsible when that animal causes an injury to another. This is true in the obvious case of an attack or bite, but also in less obvious cases where the animal chases, trips, or kicks someone.
Generally, the only situations where an animal owner is not liable for an injury are when:
- The animal did not cause the injury (something else caused it);
- The victim provoked the animal; or
- The victim was trespassing.
The case we are examining today involves a neighbor’s dog chasing after a father carrying his young daughter in his own yard. When the father ran from the dog, he slipped and fell, severely injuring his knee. No contact between the injured party and the dog ever occurred.
In Parikh v. Gilchrist the jury heard testimony from neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Parikh and Mr. and Ms. Gilchrist.
Mr. Parikh testified that in April of 2013 he came home from work and carried his 19 month old daughter to the backyard to play. He walked down a path on the side of his house, staying in his yard the whole time. As he walked toward the back yard he noticed the Gilchrists German Shepherd tied to a plastic chair 10 to 15 feet away in the Gilchrists’ yard. Mr. Parikh had seen the dog on previous occasions, but never had contact with it.
As he was walking, the dog started barking at Mr. Parikh and his daughter causing Mr. Parikh’s daughter to cry. The dog began to run toward Mr. Parikh and, not knowing what the dog would do, he ran back up the side of his property towards his open garage door. As he was running, Mr. Parikh could hear the dog and the chair. When he entered the garage, Mr. Parikh began to fall and turned his body so his daughter landed on his stomach and did not get hurt.
Mr. Parikh reported that after falling he could not get up due to pain in his knee. He used his mobile phone to call his wife to help and she called 911. Mr. Parikh was taken to the hospital and had surgery to repair his shattered knee.
When questioned by the Gilchrists attorney, Mr. Parikh testified that he was not afraid of dogs, would not run if a dog wanted to play and had never seen the dog outside of the Gilchrists yard or heard it bark prior to the day of the incident. Mr. Parikh also testified that he never saw how close the dog came to him and admitted that he told hospital staff that his shoes were wet, that he lost balance and slipped in the garage.
Ms. Parikh largely corroborated her husband’s testimony. She stated that on the date of the incident her husband came home from work, changed into sandals, and took their daughter outside to play. She noticed the Gilchrists dog tied to a chair in their backyard. As she came downstairs, Ms. Parikh saw her husband and daughter playing in the front driveway and could not see the Gilchrist’s dog where she had previously seen it. Ms. Parikh heard barking between the houses and then her phone rang. It was her husband asking her to come to the garage.
In the Garage, Ms. Parikh saw her husband and daughter on the floor and in response to asking what happened, Mr. Parikh told her “that stupid dog ran after us and I fell.”
In response to questioning from the Gilchrist’s attorney, Ms. Parikh said that someone coming from the side of the house into the garage would have to make a sharp turn and that in her experience the Gilchrist’s dog had always obeyed orders.
Ms. Gilchrist testified that on the day of the incident she was in her yard gardening. She had brought the dog outside and attached it to a plastic chair. She knew that the chair was not sufficient to stop the dog from moving and taking the chair with it.
Ms. Gilchrist did not see the Parikhs in their yard that day and after about an hour of gardening went inside. Ms. Gilchrist then went to water her garden and though she could see the dog in the back yard, she could not see the Parikhs’ property because there was foliage and a shed blocking the view.
As Ms. Gilchrist was watering her garden, she heard a chair moving over grass and looked for the dog but did not see it. Ms. Gilchrist yelled the dog’s name three times and ran toward the front of the house suspecting the dog had chased a small animal.
She found the dog lying on the property line with the chair still attached and in the Parikhs’ yard. She stated that the dog had stopped because she called its name and the dog always obeyed her commands. She further testified that the dog was not panting like it had been running.
Ms. Gilchrist testified that she took the dog inside and when she came back out she saw paramedics arrive and saw Mr. Parikh lying near the stairs in the garage. Ms. Gilchrist stated that Ms. Parikh walked over and told her that her dog had attacked her husband and baby.
Mr. Gilchrist was also called as a witness. He testified that his dog was trained to obey voice commands and that the dog had been trained with an electronic perimeter fence. He stated that if the dog heard its name without any command it would stop and sit.
The parties agreed that the Des Plaines police officer that responded to the scene would testify that he reported that Mr. Parikh stated that the dog was attempting to play and chased Mr. Parikh resulting in him falling on his right knee. The officer’s report also stated that Mr. Gilchrist said the dog was tied to a chair and must have gotten loose.
After considering the evidence, the jury found that the Gilchrists were not liable for the injury.
The Parikhs filed an appeal arguing that the jury’s verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence and also arguing that a non-standard jury instruction should have been given.
The standard for overturning a jury verdict for being against the manifest weight of the evidence is a high one. It will be overturned if the opposite conclusion is clearly evident or the jury’s findings are unreasonable, arbitrary or not based on the evidence.
In this case, there was no evidence of provocation, Mr. Parikh was in his own yard and there was no dispute as to dog ownership. Therefore, the only issue for the jury to consider is whether the dog caused the injury.
The law is clear that a dog can cause an injury without attacking. However, the court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury verdict that the injury was caused by Mr. Parikh’s sandals being wet resulting in him slipping. Since different inferences could be drawn from the evidence, the court would not overturn the jury’s verdict.
The court also found that the standard jury instruction should have been given. The standard instructions are to be given so long as they accurately state the law and the court found in this instance that they did.
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