According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 38.4% of households in the United States own dogs. Despite their popularity, some dogs are skittish, badly trained, or aggressive, leading them to bite people. The consequences can be severe: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that around one in five people require medical attention for a dog bite. One study placed the estimated cost of dog bite injuries at $165 million per year.
Illinois law aims to protect people from dog bites and attacks and offers several avenues for dog bite victims to recover damages from the dog’s owner. Explore the legal protections provided to victims of dog bites and learn how a dog bite attorney at Nessler & Association can help you recover compensation for your injuries.
What the Law Says About Dog Bites
The Illinois Animal Control Act takes a strict stance on dog bites. Several aspects of the law favor the injured person over the dog and its owner, so you and your lawyer can pursue a claim.
Illinois operates based on strict liability, meaning the owner is liable for all injuries their dog inflicts on another person or animal. Even if they had no reason to believe their dog would act aggressively, they are still responsible for compensating the person who was attacked or injured.
Does Liability Change Depending on How the Dog Injures You?
Illinois’ dog bite laws apply to more than just dog bites, as the Animal Control Act does not distinguish between different acts of aggression. If a dog knocks you down and injures you, the consequences are the same as if the dog had bitten you: the owner is still liable.
Comparative Negligence: Partial Liability
While Illinois uses strict liability, the state also has a comparative negligence doctrine, which means you can be held partially responsible for your injuries. If you hold 50% or less responsibility for the dog biting you, you can still recover damages, but your damages will be reduced by the amount of responsibility you hold.
For instance, if a dog bites you without provocation, the dog’s owner would be fully liable. However, if you approached the dog before it bit you, the dog’s owner might argue that you hold some responsibility for approaching an unknown dog. If the judge agrees, they might assign you 10% liability and reduce your earnings by 10%.
When the Owner is Not Liable
There are a few exceptions to the strict liability clause. If the dog is defending itself, its owner, or its property or is biting or attacking in response to somebody harming them or causing them pain; the owner will not be held liable for the bite.
Are There Consequences for the Owner of the Dog?
While even the most responsible dog owner may not be able to prevent their dogs from biting, negligent dog owners can put other people and pets at risk. Poorly trained dogs can injure someone without trying, and aggressive dogs that are unleashed or running loose may attack for little discernible reason.
Liability remains the same in all cases, but negligent dog owners may face extra consequences for your injuries.
Liability for Your Damages
If a dog injures you, the dog’s owner will be responsible for covering your damages, like paying your medical expenses. However, the owner likely won’t compensate you themselves. It’s more likely that the owner’s homeowners’ or renters’ insurance will compensate you for your damages, even if the bite occurred away from the owner’s property.
However, some insurance companies require an additional policy for injuries caused by pets, and some even refuse to insure owners of bully breeds like pit bulls. In these cases, you may want to consult with a personal injury lawyer to determine your legal options. You may have other means of collecting compensation, like wage garnishments.
Classification of the Dog
If a dog bites another person or animal outside of self-defense, the dog will be considered either a dangerous dog or vicious dog, which places additional restrictions on the owner. For instance, the owner of a dangerous dog will be fined $50 and may be required to muzzle their dog when out in public. If they fail to adhere to these restrictions, they will be forced to surrender their dog to animal control.
Losing Their Dog
After a dog bites someone, all dog owners must temporarily turn the dog over to animal control so they can monitor for signs of rabies. However, dogs that repeatedly or seriously injure someone may not be returned. Additionally, under some circumstances, the owner may be declared a “reckless dog owner,” be required to turn over all dogs they own, and cannot own or adopt another dog for up to three years afterward.
Can I Seek Compensation if I Was Bitten By a Dog?
Not only do dog bite victims often face costly medical expenses, but their injuries might also prevent them from going to work. While the dog owner’s insurance company may cover some of your medical bills, they often don’t cover enough. There are many cases where you might not be compensated by insurance.
Generally, you can seek compensation for any financial damages you might have incurred from the dog bite. This includes medical expenses and income you could not earn due to your injury.
For example, if you suffered permanent nerve damage that forced you to leave your job, you could seek compensation for lost wages. In some cases, you may also be able to claim emotional distress, such as if you had developed post-traumatic stress disorder or a phobia of dogs that severely limits your quality of life.
The damages you can obtain depend on your case. Even if you only want to be compensated for your medical bills, arguing your case successfully without help can be difficult. A law firm familiar with dog bite cases can review the facts of your case and help you file a successful claim.
Consult a Dog Bite Lawyer in Illinois Today
If you or a loved one have been bitten or attacked by a dog in Illinois, Nessler & Associates can help you pursue compensation. We will fight to get you the payout you deserve, and we’ll do it at no cost to you unless we settle or win your case. Call us at (800) 727-8010 or fill out our online form to schedule a free consultation today to discuss your dog bite claim.