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Chicago Dog Bites: The Basics

Dogs. They're smart, loyal, and loving. Canines like Lassie, Toto, and Marley have all left paw prints on our hearts. But, what if your adorably high strung, keenly boisterous, all too playful, furry friend decides to bite another person causing injuries? You'll likely be held liable.

A dog attack can be very serious. It's not uncommon for dog bites to result in serious injuries, particularly in cases involving attacks on children or the elderly. In the worst instances, dog attacks may even result in death.

Chicago dog owners are responsible for keeping their animals under control. In most cases, if a dog attacks another person, the owner is legally responsible for that attack. Read on to learn more about the law surrounding dog bites in Chicago.

What is the law in Illinois?

In Illinois, the state law is found in the Animal Control Act. Check out Section 16:

"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."

Ok, now plain English -- if you own or have custody of a dog, you are strictly liable for any injuries your canine causes to another person.

But what if I didn't know my dog was dangerous?

It doesn't matter. The owner doesn't have to be aware of any dangerous tendencies on their dog's part in order to be held liable for injuries. It also doesn't matter that the owner took measures to restrain the dog and protect the public from the dog, such as chaining it and putting up fences. The owner is strictly liable for every injury the dog causes another person, unless the other person was trespassing, provoking the dog, or both.

OK, but really. What if?

The dog doesn't actually "bite" someone, but still causes injury? Let's say Spot jumps on a guest in your home unprovoked, causing him or her to fall and break a bone. Again, the owner is strictly liable.

Is there a time limit to pursue my dog bite case?

Yes, as a victim, you have two years from the date of the dog bite to file a lawsuit. If you don't, you won't be able to pursue your lawsuit.

What about the "one bite" rule?

Ah, yes. The "get out of jail free" card if your dog bites someone, but hasn't done it before. Not in this state. The "one bite free" rule doesn't apply in Illinois. If your dog bites someone without being provoked, you may be liable.

Does the owner have any responsibilities after his or her dog bites someone?

Absolutely. First, the owner should make sure anyone injured by his or her dog receives prompt medical attention. Call 911 if necessary. Next, the owner needs to contact Chicago Animal Care and Control. Then, the dog owner must take the animal to a veterinarian within 24 hours of the biting incident to begin a 10-day observation period for rabies. If the dog's rabies shots are current, the dog may stay confined at the owner's house and then be returned to the veterinarian on the 10th day.

However, if the rabies shots have expired, the dog must be confined under the observation of the veterinarian for 10 days. The owner has to foot the bill for all of this -- housing, care, and treatment of the dog during this period.

Can you give me an example of provoking the dog?

An example of provoking a dog can be pulling the dog's tail, hitting the dog with a stick, or kicking the dog.

Keep in mind, provocation can be completely accidental. You don't have to intend to anger the dog. If your act would have caused a regular dog to bite, then it could be considered provocation under Illinois law, barring your claim. If you accidentally step on a dog's tail and he bites you, Illinois courts consider that adequate provocation.

Can you give me an example of lawfully being on the property?

If you were invited onto the dog owner's property as a guest or a potential customer, then you were lawfully on the property and can likely recover for your injuries -- friends, family, social guests, contractors, postal employees, utility workers, newspaper carriers, and anyone else invited onto the property.

But if you're committing a crime (like trespassing), you may not be able to recover. Sorry, all you burglars out there. If dog bites you while breaking and entering into a residence, you can't recover.

What compensation can a victim recover?

In a lawsuit, compensation for your injuries is known as damages. If a dog bites you, you can sue for such damages as:

  • Medical expenses
  • Emotional distress
  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost wages

Homeowners or Renters Insurance: Does it cover dog bites?

Homeowners and renters insurance policies will usually cover animal bite claims brought by nonresidents of the home. Liability coverage ranges. If the claim exceeds policy limits, the dog owner can be personally liable for the balance.

If you or someone you know has suffered a serious injury because of a dog bite or attack, consider speaking to a qualified legal professional and learn more about what your options are in Chicago.

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