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Pets or Threats: Illinois Law Regarding Dog Attacks

Casey Woodruff

undefinedAnimal companionship and domestication is a human tradition stretching back thousands of years, and it is still going strong today. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 56 percent of American households own pets. However, this sort of ownership comes with serious responsibilities. As people have begun living in closer proximity to others, the need for owners to control their pets has grown considerably, since dog bites and other pet attacks can cause serious injuries. In order to encourage this responsible control over pets, Illinois has enacted the Animal Control Act, section 16 of which deals with liability for animal attacks.

Liability for Dog Bites

Illinois’ Animal Control Act imposes strict liability for dog bites, eliminating the old “one bite rule” that is still in effect in some states. The one bite rule said that dog owners were only responsible for their dog’s attacks if the dog had attacked someone in the past. In essence, the rule gave every dog one free bite, and focused the inquiry on whether the dog owner knew that their dog was likely to attack someone.

The Illinois rule is one of strict liability, so it has no such grace period. In Illinois a person may recover for a dog bite or other pet attack when three things are true:

  • The dog must attack the victim without provocation;
  • The victim must be conducting himself “peaceably”; and
  • The attack must happen somewhere where the victim is allowed to be.

If a person’s dog attack meets all three of these qualifications, then he or she can recover for their injuries from the person who is responsible for the dog. However this raises the question of who is responsible for the dog.

Who Is Responsible for the Dog?

The Illinois Animal Control Act says that when a person is attacked in a way that meets those three qualifications, they can recover from the dog’s “owner.” However, the use of the word owner in that context is a little misleading, since it is specially defined in the statute. In reality, the legal definition of owner goes beyond the ordinary meaning of the word. An owner for the purposes of pet attack liability is someone who has a property interest in the pet, which is the ordinary definition of owner, as well as people who care for it, keep it in their custody, exercise control over it, or even just someone who allows a dog to remain on their property.

The goal of this expansive definition of owner is to attach liability for the dog’s actions to the person who was responsible for caring for the dog, which is not necessarily the dog’s owner. For instance, there was an Illinois case wherein the dog’s owner left the dog at the veterinarian. The veterinarian let the dog escape and the dog bit someone. In that case, the owner was shielded from liability because they did not have custody of the dog when it escaped.

Dog bites and other pet attacks can cause severe injuries. If you have been harmed by a violent animal, contact an Aurora personal injury attorney at Woodruff Johnson & Evans today to discuss your case.

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