Illinois Dog Bite Laws

An Illinois dog owner's liability for bites and other animal-caused injuries, time limits for filing a dog bite lawsuit, and more state laws.

If you've been injured by someone else's dog in Illinois, or you're a dog owner who wants to understand the state's dog bite injury liability rules, you've come to the right place. In this article, we'll cover:

  • the deadline for brining a dog bite lawsuit in the Illinois court system
  • Illinois's status as a "strict liability" state for purpose of a dog owner's responsibility after a bite or other animal-caused injury, and
  • common defenses a dog owner might raise in response to a personal injury lawsuit over a bite or similar injury in Illinois.

The Illinois Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite Lawsuits

In every state, laws called statutes of limitations dictate how much time is allowed to pass before you must get a civil lawsuit filed. There are different time limits for different kinds of cases, but if you miss the deadline that applies to your situation, the court will almost certainly dismiss your case once you do file it, unless a rare exception applies to extend the deadline.

In Illinois, as in most states, dog-caused injury claims fall under the larger umbrella of "personal injury," so the statute of limitations spelled out at 735 Illinois Compiled Statutes section 5/13-202 applies. This law says "Actions for damages for an injury to the person...shall be commenced within two years next after the cause of action accrued."

So, in plain English, and in the context of a dog bite lawsuit, that means you'll need to file your personal injury complaint in the appropriate Illinois court within two years of the date of the bite or other injury.

The Illinois "Strict Liability" Dog Bite Statute

Illinois lawmakers have passed a statute that specifically covers dog bite injuries. The law, which can be found at 510 ILCS 5/16, says 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 animals owner is liable for all damages sustained by the injured person.

This is a "strict liability" statute, which means the animal's owner is liable whether or not he or she was negligent in connection with the incident that resulted in the claimant's injuries, as long as the injured person didn't provoke the animal, and had a legal right to be in the location where the incident occurred. In other words, even when the dog owner took all reasonable precautions in the moments leading up to the incident, they're still liable for the injured person's medical bills, "pain and suffering," and other damages.

Note that this statute covers bites and other kinds of injuries caused by animals. 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 this Illinois statute.

Defenses to a Dog Bite Lawsuit In Illinois

The applicability of a defense will depend on the specific circumstances in which the bite or other injury occurred, but a reading of the Illinois dog bite statute discussed above suggests that a dog owner generally has at least two defenses available when faced with a dog bite or dog-caused injury claim: provocation and trespassing.

Illinois's dog bite statue requires that the animal attack or injure a person "without provocation," so if the injured person provoked the dog in the moments before the attack, the dog owner might be off the legal hook.

Similarly, since Illinois's dog bite statute requires the injured person to "lawfully" be on the property where the injury took place, an owner who can show the claimant was trespassing at the time of the injury might not be liable for the claimed damages. (Learn more about homeowner liability when trespassers are injured.)

    If you find yourself involved in a dog bite claim in Illinois—either as a dog owner or as someone who suffered a bite or other injury—it may be time to discuss your situation with a personal injury lawyer.

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