Who is Liable for a Dog Bite Injury?
Liability for injuries in a dog bite differs by state.
Under Illinois law, a dog bite victim is eligible for compensation under the doctrines of negligence, negligence per se, scienter, and intentional tort.
There is a special Illinois state statute regarding dog bites – the “Animal Control Act.” This statute makes the owner liable for any injuries to others, without negligence on the part of the defendant. The statute defines these owners 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 acts as its custodian, or who knowingly permits a dog to remain on any premises occupied by him or her.”
The statute further explains the context of a situation in which a dog owner can be held liable, stating:
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.
Trespassers (see premises liability) who are bitten by an animal within the boundaries of another person’s private property will likely not have a strong claim against the owner. Individuals acting to provoke an animal are not protected under the clause of plaintiff negligence and will likely not have a strong claim against the owner.
If the defendant acts with negligence, that is the defendant breaches a duty that he or she holds and that breach of duty results in another person’s injury, the defendant can be held liable for the injury. Under the protection of negligence per se, the defendant is expected to follow any local laws and regulations regarding animal care. If the defendant breaches any expected duty under local regulations, the defendant can be held liable for the injury.
Example: A local statute requires dogs to be on a leash at all time while in public.
However, a dog owner at the park lets his dog off the leash. The dog, who is usually friendly, is engaged by a young boy who provokes the dog. The dog bites the boy, who was obviously continually provoking the animal. The owner could claim that the boy’s provocative actions resulted in the bite. But because the owner had the dog off leash, he was not following local statutes and can therefore be held liable.