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Are Dog Owners Responsible if Their Dog Bites Someone?

The traditional rule of dog bites at English common law was that every dog got one bite; that is, the law shielded a dog owner from liability to the first victim of each of his animals. This was because domesticated animals are not inherently vicious creatures, so liability could only be assigned upon the owner’s knowledge that his animal had a propensity to bite. This is known as the “one bite rule.”
Modern American law has largely done away with the one bite rule. Today, the issue of liability for dog bites can be based on theories of either strict liability or negligence. In negligence jurisdictions, liability must be based on whether the owner of the dog knew or should have known that the animal might bite and whether the owner took necessary precautions based on that knowledge. In strict liability jurisdictions, dog owners can be held liable for bites regardless of whether the defendant could have done anything to prevent the injury. Illinois is a strict liability jurisdiction.
The Illinois dog bite statute is codified at 510 ILCS 5/16,1 and reads:
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.
Thus, in order to prevail under the statute, the plaintiff must show:
(1) The dog attacked, attempted to attack, or injured the person
(2) The person had a lawful right to be in the place he or she was when attacked, and
(3) The dog was not provoked
Once these three elements are shown, the plaintiff can recover all damages flowing from the incident. These damages include:
  • Past, current, and future medical bills
  • Lost income from treating the injury
  • Pain and suffering (this applies especially to children who may experience newfound fear of dogs and nightmares)
  • Property damages
  • Loss of consortium
Most homeowner’s insurance policies cover dog bites, although some do not cover breeds that are known to bite, such as Rottweilers and pit bulls.
Although Illinois is a strict liability jurisdiction when it comes to dog bites, this liability is not absolute. There are two defenses to dog owners based on provocation and liability. As stated in the statute, the law does not protect those who are injured as a result of provoking an animal. If the owner can show that the plaintiff provoked the animal in question, he or she is off the hook.
Second, because the law requires the plaintiff to be “lawfully” on the property he or she occupied when the injury occurred, trespassers who are bitten by dogs do not have a cause of action.
Contact a Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer 
If you’ve been injured by a dog bite and believe you may have a claim against the owner, please contact the Chicago dog bite attorneys at Abels & Annes, PC, for a free consultation by calling 312-924-7575. 
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