Does Your Dog Bite? “It’s Not My Dog” May Not Be a Defense

In Illinois there are several possible legal theories for recovery for dog bite victims.  Initially a claim can be made under the Illinois Animal Control Act.  The Act imposes strict liability upon owners of dogs without requiring the victim prove any fault on the part of the owner.  The Act provides that the owner, harborer or keeper of any animal (whether or not a dog) is liable for injuries to people, whether or not caused by a bite, without negligence on the part of the owner.

An “owner” includes “any person having a right of property in an animal, or who keeps or harbors an animal, or who has it in his care, or acts as its custodian, or who knowingly permits a dog to remain on any premises occupied by him or her.”  (510 ILCS 5/2.16.)  Take a famous example from the movie the “Pink Panther Strikes Again” when Inspector Clouseau checks into a hotel and sees a dog lying on the hotel lobby floor.  He asks the hotel clerk “Does your dog bite?” and the hotel clerk responds “No.”   When he reaches down to pet the dog he is viciously bitten on the hand.   A surprised Inspector Clouseau says “I thought you said your dog did not bite!”   The hotel clerk responds “That is not my dog.”

Under the Illinois Animal Control Act the hotel would be considered an “owner” and would be liable for the attack.  Also the “it’s not my dog” excuse may not work for a dog walker, groomer, veterinarian, or boarding house who has temporary custody of a pet.  The Act provides that 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 any injuries.  So if a victim is provoking the animal or trespassing on the property where the dog is kept they may not be able to recover damages under the Act.

Also a victim can reach owners and other potential defendants, such as a landlord, condominium association, temporary custodians of the dog, on the grounds of common law negligence.  In general if the owner or custodian is aware that the dog had bitten or attacked, or has a propensity to attack, someone else without provocation in the past they may be liable for subsequent attacks under a negligence theory.  In Illinois a dog bite victim can hold a residential property owner and its agents liable for a dog attack if it occurs in a common area, not a part of the premises that has been rented or leased.
The experienced lawyers at Mitchell Hoffman & Wolf, LLC are available to provide immediate legal assistance if you or a family member has been bitten or attacked by a dog.