Dog bites and animal attacks are more common than most people think. Often, the disfiguring injuries that result are never reported to animal control officials. Every year in the U.S., there are nearly 4.7 million dog bites, 800,000 of the attacks require medical attention. To compensate for the harm caused by dog bites, the insurance industry pays over $1 billion in claims each year.
Illinois has enacted laws designed to protect the rights of those who have suffered an injury due to an animal attack. Previously, under the common law, a person injured by a dog could recover only by proving that the dog had previously manifested a disposition to bite or cause harm, and that the owners of the dog were aware of the dog’s harmful disposition. This was known as the “one bite rule.” Although the rules set forth under the common law still exist, the Illinois Animal Control Act now provides an easier remedy for dog bite victims. Under the Animal Control Act, dog bite victims no longer need to prove that the dog owner had prior knowledge of the animal’s vicious nature. The Act makes it easier to plead and prove a dog bite injury case.
In order to recover under the Illinois Animal Control Act, a dog bite or animal attack victim may present a claim by showing: (1) that the injury was caused by an animal owned by the defendant; (2) that the animal was not provoked; (3) that the injured person was conducting himself peaceably; and (4) that the injured person was in a place where he had the legal right to be. Illinois courts have found, for example, that municipal parks in Naperville, a dog beach in Chicago or a sidewalk in Dupage County, are places where victims have a legal right to be. Moreover, the victim’s mere presence on a dog owner’s property will not constitute provocation. Even if a dog misinterprets a visitor’s movements, such circumstances will not prevent someone from presenting a claim and collecting damages under Illinois Animal Control Act.
Additionally, the definition of what constitutes an “attack” is set forth in the Act. An injury from a dog attack can arise in numerous ways. An attack does not require physical contact between a dog and a person. An attack may encompass aggressive, threatening or menacing behavior that does not culminate in biting or other injury. This may include growling, baring teeth and threatening to bite or pounce. For example, when a dog that growls and then charges at a victim, causing him to fall over and suffer an injury upon hitting his head on the sidewalk, an action for civil damages may lie. An owner is strictly liable when the injured party was just an innocent bystander. Further, people other than the owner can be liable. Anyone who places himself in a position of control over the animal, so that they are acting in the place of the dog’s owner, can be held liable.
Damages recoverable under the Act may include the painful injuries suffered, the medical expenses incurred and to be incurred, the resulting loss of a normal life and the disfigurement or scarring that that results from wounds. An injured person can recover their medical expenses, including the cost of scar revisions, dermabrasion and plastic surgery, which may be necessary to restore the disfiguring appearance of a victim of a dog bite wound.
Many dog bite injuries are suffered by children. If a child is injured by a dog, the child’s parents may recover on behalf of the child, and they may seek damages under the Illinois Family Medical Expense Act.
Dog bites are a serious matter, and the (homeowner’s) insurance carriers of those who choose to own dogs may be responsible to pay for the damages caused by a harmful animal. If you have been injured as a result of a dog attack, you should take immediate action in order to protect your legal rights. Call Animal Control in the city or county where the incident occurred. Then, contact a knowledgeable attorney.