Illinois Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

Can the dog owner be sued? Illinois laws on personal injury claims arising out of a dog bite or dog attack.

This article looks at some key points of dog bite laws in Illinois. We'll start with the deadline that applies to dog bite cases filed in an Illinois court. Then we'll examine the statute that governs dog bites in Illinois and the state's status as a "strict liability" dog bite state. Finally, we'll look at the defenses a dog owner might raise if faced with an Illinois dog bite lawsuit.

Deadlines for Filing an Illinois Dog Bite Lawsuit

Each state has a  statute of limitations  for personal injury lawsuits, like those that arise from dog bite injuries. The statute of limitations is a law that limits the amount of time an injured person has to file a lawsuit in court after an injury. In Illinois, the statute of limitations for dog bites gives an injured person  two years  from the date of the bite to bring a case in court.

If the case is not filed within two years, it will almost certainly be thrown out of court without a hearing. Therefore, it's important to know when the two-year deadline will come and to get your lawsuit filed before that date.

Illinois's Dog Bite Statute

The code of laws in Illinois contains a specific statute that covers dog bite injuries. The law,  510 ILCS 5/16, explains that in order to prove a dog or other animal owner is liable for a bite, an injured person must show that:

  • the dog or other animal attacked, attempted to attack, or injured the person
  • the person had a lawful right to be in the place he or she was when attacked or injured, and
  • the dog or other animal was not provoked.

Illinois's dog bite law covers both injuries caused by animal bites and injuries caused by other animal behaviors. For instance, suppose that a person is walking down a public sidewalk one day when a dog runs out of its yard and jumps on the person, knocking him down and causing injury. The injured person may seek compensation under the Illinois statute.

"Strict Liability" Dog Bite Law in Illinois

States typically use one of two legal theories to handle dog bite cases. These theories are known as "strict liability" and "negligence."

Illinois is a "strict liability" state when it comes to dog bites and other injuries caused by animals. This means that the owner of a dog or other animal cannot argue that he or she had no warning of the animal's aggressive or injury-causing tendencies. If an animal injures a person without provocation, the owner is liable, even if the owner had no previous knowledge that the animal might cause injuries.

Illinois uses a  strict liability rule  both for dog bites and for other kinds of injuries caused by dogs. For instance, if you are knocked down by a dog who jumps on you, the owner may be liable for your injuries even if the owner didn't know the dog would jump. You still need to follow the Illinois dog bite statute (510 ILCS 5/16) rules laid out in the section above, in terms of the other elements that need to be established.

Defenses to Illinois Dog Bite Liability

An Illinois dog owner generally has two defenses to a dog bite or injury claim: provocation and trespassing. Illinois's dog bite statue doesn't cover situations in which a dog is provoked. For instance, a person may not tease or hurt a dog, get bitten, and then claim the owner is liable. Therefore, if the owner can prove that the injury was the result of the dog or other animal being provoked, the owner may not be held liable for the injury.

The second possible defense to an Illinois dog bite claim is trespassing. Trespassing occurs when a person is on private property without permission. Since Illinois's dog bite law requires the injured person to "lawfully" be on the property he or she occupied when the injury took place, an owner who can show the person was trespassing at the time of the injury may not be liable for the costs of that injury. (See our article on  homeowner liability when trespassers are injured  to learn more.)

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