An attack or bite by a dog or other animal can result in serious injury and the need for extensive medical care. When an individual is bitten or attacked by an animal there are several potential claims which should be evaluated by a Chicago personal injury lawyer. This includes a negligence claim against the owner of the animal as well as a claim pursuant to the Animal Control Act. Dwyer & McDevitt has the experience to effectively evaluate these cases for our clients.
Illinois Animal Control Act
The Illinois Animal Control Act provides that if a dog or other animal, without provocation, attacks or injures any person who is peaceably conducting himself in any place where he may lawfully be, the owner of the dog or animal is liable for damages to such person for the full amount of the injury sustained.
The “owner” of the animal is defined as “any person having a right of property in a dog or other animal, or who keeps or harbors the dog or other animal, or who has it in his care, or acts as its custodian, or who knowingly permits a dog or other domestic animal to remain on or about any premises occupied by him. The Animal Control Act therefore applies not just to the person who purchased the dog but also may include those temporarily keeping the animal such as a kennel or even a friend of the purchaser of the dog who agrees to harbor the animal. However, an absentee landlord who allows his tenants to have pets on the premises is not an owner and therefore is not liable for injury suffered under the Animal Control Act.
What must a plaintiff prove under the Illinois Animal Control Act?
There are four elements which the plaintiff must prove to recover for injuries suffered as the result of an animal attack:
Injury caused by an animal “owned” by the defendant;
lack of provocation;
peaceable conduct of the person injured;
the presence of the injured person in a place where he has a right to be.
Does the Illinois Animal Control Act apply to any animal conduct that causes injury?
Any action by an animal which results in injury is covered by the statute. For example, the Animal Control Act is applicable when a dog is in the road and causes a collision. A dog owner has been subject to liability under the Act when a plaintiff was injured in a fall from a bicycle while being chased by defendant’s dog. An action has similarly been allowed under the Animal Control Act when a race horse broke out of the track and ran through the crowd injuring the plaintiff. Similarly, the Animal Control Act has been applied to injuries suffered by a person who fell when a dog ran between the plaintiff’s legs.
When is the conduct of the animal not actionable under the Illinois Animal Control Act?
If the animal is a passive causal force it cannot be the proximate cause of injuries. For example, if the animal stands or lays still or moves away from the plaintiff in a usual, predictable manner known to the plaintiff, the owner will not be liable under the Animal Control Act. Courts have held that a plaintiff cannot recover for injuries sustained when she spilled boiling water as she stepped over the defendant’s dog which had been following her around the kitchen. Similarly, a dog owner was not liable for injuries sustained when the plaintiff trips over a dog as it lay on the front porch steps. Finally, a plaintiff who fell down a staircase after being frightened by the defendants’ dog was denied recovery where the dog was in the defendants’ home, behind a locked gate, where it could not escape.
What is provocation under the Act?
The burden is on the plaintiff to prove that the animal was not provoked. Whether the plaintiff proves a lack of provocation is a question for a jury to decide. Juries have found that the plaintiff did not sustain his burden of proof when he was attacked by a German Shepherd after entering the dog’s territory and kneeling within the perimeter of its chain while it was eating. Unjustifiably kicking a dog is clearly provocative while stepping off an elevator and walking toward an apartment door or merely untying and feeding a dog is not provocation. Whether the plaintiff’s conduct constitutes provocation must be evaluated on a case by case basis.
Who is an “owner” of an animal?
An “owner” is defined to include not only someone having a right of property in the animal but also one who “keeps” or “harbors” the animal or who has it in his “care”. One who acts as its “custodian” or “knowingly permits it to remain on or about any premises occupied by him” may also be an “owner” and therefore subject to liability under the Act.
A defendant is not a “harborer” of a dog when he is an absentee landlord who merely allows a tenant to keep a dog. A plaintiff who agrees to board and care for a dog cannot recover should the dog attack her because she does not fall within the definition of “owner” under the statute. The act of feeding or watering a stray dog until it could be taken to an animal shelter or placed in a home does not make the defendant an “owner” under the statute.
Is there any other legal remedy for injuries suffered other than the Illinois Animal Control Act?
In addition to the Animal Control Act, Illinois law provides that the owner or keeper of a domestic animal is strictly liable for injuries caused by the animal if the plaintiff can show that the animal had an uncommon mischievous or dangerous propensity to commit such an injury and that the owner had actual knowledge of that propensity. This is a more difficult claim to sustain as it is oftentimes difficult to show the owner had actual knowledge of the animal’s dangerous propensities.
A plaintiff may seek damages under both the Illinois Animal Control Act and for common law negligence. It is typically the Animal Control Act that affords the plaintiff the greatest likelihood of recovery when attacked by an animal.
Our office has experience litigating claims on behalf of those injured as the result of an animal’s conduct. If you have suffered injury as the result of an animal’s conduct, please contact our office for a free case evaluation.