The United States Postal Service ranks cities and states for the number of dog attacks on mail carrier. This is indicative of the level of the danger that people face from dogs in that area.
The bad news for Illinois residents is that Chicago and Cook County have the third-highest number of dog attacks on mail carriers of any city. The number of dog attacks went up almost 20% from 2018 to 2019. Illinois is also the fourth-worst dog bite state in the country.
Nationwide, the CDC estimates that 4.5 million people are attacked and bitten each year by dogs. The numbers have gotten worse as dogs have increased in popularity as pets. It seems that nearly everyone has at least one pet dog these days, and this means more dog attacks. While many dogs are peaceful and friendly, some are vicious dogs or aggressive dogs, posing a danger to the general public.
Your Rights as an Injured Person After a Dog Attack
Legally, when you or a family member are bitten by a dog, you have certain rights. This may result in compensation for the dog bite that you suffered.
There is a common legal rule when it comes to dog bites that even non-lawyers know. This rule holds that an individual dog gets one bite to show that it is dangerous and the owner must take steps to control it. In other words, the dog owner is not automatically liable the first time that their dog bites someone.
Illinois’ Strict Liability Law for Dog Attacks
For people in Illinois who have been bitten by a dog, the good news is that the dog owner is automatically liable on the first bite provided that certain circumstances apply. The law in Illinois is found in 510 ILCS 5/16. The law states that the dog owner “the owner of such dog or other animal is liable” for injuries caused by the dog bite.
This is not a dangerous dog law and it is different than the common law negligence doctrine. It does not matter whether the dog has attacked the elderly, middle aged or young children.
This is a concept that is otherwise known as strict liability, and Illinois is a strict liability state. When this concept applies, the law does not ask what the owner was doing. All the law is concerned with is that the injury happened. The second the incident occurred and there is injury, the dog’s owner would become automatically liable for the animal attack.
As a dog bite victim, you do not need to have been attacked by a dangerous dog such as a pit bull or one that has previously bitten. It does not matter whether the dog has previously shown aggressive behavior before. The dog bite law protects you as an injured person and will mean compensation for physical injury, the costs of medical attention and even emotional trauma that you suffered.
The Illinois statute does not care whether the dog is the property of the owner. If someone is taking care of a dog for the actual owner and has the dog on their property, that person can be held responsible.
The Owner Does not Need Prior Knowledge that it Is a Vicious Dog
The rule of thumb in Illinois is that if a dog attacks, the owner is legally responsible. In Cook County, DuPage County and throughout the state, the owner does not need to have any prior knowledge that the dog is vicious. Owners will often say that their dog has never bit or attacked anyone before. This is irrelevant when it comes to an Illinois personal injury for a dog bite.
It is important to know that when you are suing for a dog attack, you still must prove your case, even with the concept of strict liability. In other words, you must still show that certain things happened and that you did not do anything wrong on your part. Under state law, in order to show that you are entitled to financial compensation for a dog attack, you need to prove five different things:
- The dog caused an injury.
- The dog had an “owner” within the terms of the law.
- You did nothing to provoke the dog.
- You were acting peaceably.
- You had a legal right to be in the place where the attack occurred (if the dog attack occurred on private property, the court would look at the reason why you were on the property).
Of course, this brings to mind some exceptions from the rule that dog owners are strictly liable for the damage caused by their dog. For example, if you are an intruder on someone’s private property and the dog attacks you, the owner would not be responsible.
The Example of Ferris Bueller’s Dog
To give a famous analogy associated with Illinois, Principal Rooney was attacked by Ferris Bueller’s family dog when he unlawfully entered the family’s home and property in search of Bueller. He was bit by the dog. Based on his actions of breaking and entering and then harming the dog, the family’s defenses would have been valid and they would not have been liable for his dog bite injuries when the dog bit his leg.
It is important to note that dog owners are not just liable for injuries caused by dog bites. They can also be held responsible if the dog lunges at a person and causes injury. For example, if you fall trying to get away from a lunging dog and break a bone, the dog owner would be responsible for the injury that is caused.
If you have been attacked by a dog, you do not even need to allege that the owner themselves was negligent. The law does not care what the owner was doing at the time of the incident that could have contributed to the problem. Even if the owner had the dog on a leash and the dog jumped the leash, they will still be obligated to pay for the dog attack.
For example, an old Illinois Appellate Court case looked at the language of the Illinois law and said that there were two different ways that a dog owner could be liable. The first was for an attack (which presumably would include biting). The second was for any injury that was caused by the dog. McEvoy v. Brown, 17 Ill. App. 2d 470, 150 N.E.2d 652 (3d Dist. 1958).
If you have suffered any injury from an aggressive dog, you should contact an attorney so you can file a lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations. You should also contact disease control to let them know of the attack so an animal care peace officer can isolate the dog in accordance with the Illinois Animal Control Act.