Personal Injury 101: When are Animal Owners Liable for Injuries Caused by Their Pets?

Oct 23, 2020

Pets are a source of joy and affection, and in the United States, the majority of families own at least one pet. In fact, according to recent estimates from the National Pet Owners Survey, approximately 67% of American households (or approximately 85 million families) currently own a pet. While pets are generally regarded as a source of happiness for their owners, there are certain instances in which the conduct of a pet may hurt their owner or even expose the owner to liability in a courtroom. Today, our post is dedicated to animal control laws, and specifically, when a pet owner in Illinois may be liable to third parties for injuries caused by their pets. Specifically, this post addresses a few of the most pressing legal questions commonly asked by pet owners and those who have been injured by another person’s pet.

Does Illinois Hold Pet Owners Liable for the Conduct of their Pets?

Yes. The state enacted a law entitled the Illinois Animal Control Act that governs how and when pet owners should be held liable for injuries caused by their pets. The Act provides that pet owners shall be liable where: (1) a dog or other animal attacks, or attempts to attack, or injures; (2) a peaceful individual who was legally entitled to be present at the place they were at during the attack; and (3) the animal was not provoked in any way. It is important to note that Illinois law not only holds owners liable for dog bites, but also for “attempts to attack” or other injuries. Consequently, a pet owner could face a lawsuit for their dog jumping at a stranger or injuring someone in another similar way.

In terms of the law’s scope, the Illinois Animal Control Act broadly describes an owner as “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 who knowingly permits a dog to remain on any premises occupied by him or her.” Along these same lines, the Act defines a “dangerous dog” as either “(i) any individual dog anywhere other than upon the property of the owner or custodian…and unmuzzled, unleashed, or unattended by its owner or custodian that behaves in a manner that a reasonable person would believe poses a serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to a person or a companion animal; or (ii) a dog that, without justification, bites a person and does not cause serious physical injury.”

As this breakdown of the law demonstrates, the Illinois Animal Control Act was enacted to cover virtually all dangerous conduct by a pet. The Act also imposes liability upon any person who is currently looking after the pet, even if that person is not the lawful owner of the animal. Finally, for individuals injured by the dangerous conduct of a pet, Illinois allows these parties two years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit.

What is the Difference Between Illinois’ Dog Bite Laws and Those of Other States?

State dog bite laws can be generally grouped into two categories: negligence statutes and strict liability statutes. In a negligence state, an injury victim would have to show that the pet owner knew that their dog was prone to biting or that the dog’s breed is known to be violent. Conversely, in a strict liability state, the dog owner is automatically held liable (unless an available defense applies) in the event that their dog bites or injures another person. The Illinois Animal Control Act is a classic example of a strict liability dog bite statute. Thus, in Illinois, a dog owner will likely be held liable regardless of their knowledge of the dog’s dangerous nature.

Are There Any Available Defenses to a Dog Bite Claim?

Even in a strict liability state like Illinois, there are a few available defenses that dog owners can attempt to offer to avoid liability. The most common defense in a dog bite case is a provocation. Here, the pet owner would argue that the injured party teased, hurt, or otherwise provoked the animal to act the way that it did. Another somewhat common defense to liability in a dog bite case is trespass. In this case, the defendant would contend that, at the time of the attack, the injury victim was on private property without the landowner’s consent. If the injured party illegally entered the property on which they were attacked, the defendant will likely be relieved of any liability.

If any readers have suffered a dog bite or another similar injury caused by another person’s pet, do not hesitate to reach out to Coffman Law. Owner and Founding Partner Brian Coffman has handled virtually every type of personal injury matter, and through his experience defending corporate insurers for years prior to founding his own firm, Brian has also come to understand the strategies typically employed by insurance companies in these types of cases. Click HERE to contact our office for a free consultation.

About Coffman Law Offices, P.C.

Coffman Law is Chicago’s leading personal injury law firm and is committed to providing superb legal representation for people who are suffering from severe personal injuries or are dealing with the loss of a loved one due to negligence or misconduct. Coffman Law is a results-driven law firm focused on ensuring that clients receive the compassion, attention, and consideration that they need to seek adequate compensation for injuries or loss. The firm is led by Owner and Founding Partner Brian Coffman, who has dedicated his career to helping accident victims navigate the legal system and obtain compensation for their injuries. If you have been injured or lost a loved one, contact Coffman Law today for a free consultation.