Liability in Dog Bites and Animal Attacks

The Chicago Lawyers of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. represent individuals that were attacked, bitten, injured, and/or harmed by a dog, or another animal. As with other incidents involving bodily injury or destruction of property, the legal remedies available to a victim will depend on the factual circumstances involved. It is helpful to consider ‘liability’ and ‘liability sources’ as two distinct concepts. In other words— Can a person or entity be held civilly liable for injuries or damages incurred? —and if so— Is there a financial source from which compensation can be obtained from? Each are discussed below.

In fully understanding liability in animal attacks, it is helpful to view the precise statutory language, as set forth in the Illinois Animal Control Act. In reading the foregoing, take note of the bolded portions of 510 ILCS 5/16:

“Animal attacks or injuries. 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. [Emphasis added]

In interpreting the statute, it is useful to break it down into FOUR separate inquiries, which, from the legal perspective, are referred to as the ELEMENTS for a civil cause of action, for damages under the Illinois Animal Control Act:

  1. Did the attack occur without provocation?
  2. Was the victim peaceably conducting at the time of the attack?
  3. Did the attack occur in a place where the victim was lawfully entitled to be?
  4. Was the animal owned by the defendant?

Properly assessing liability, from the legal perspective, requires applying the facts of the particular incident at hand to each of the above-listed inquiries. Stated simply, there must be a reasonable and factual basis for the court to impose liability. Generally speaking, if each inquiry can be responded to in the affirmative, and there is sufficient credible evidence available to support each element, then, the defendant is civilly liable for damages proximately caused thereby. However, dog bite injury victims must also consider each element in the objective versus the subjective senses—in other words, the victim’s interpretation versus the court’s interpretation.

In some cases a specific term or phrase is explicitly defined by statute, while others are open to interpretation. For example, the term ‘owner’ is defined by Illinois law, while the term ‘without provocation,’ is not. Further complicating matters, there are times where even though a detailed statutory definition is provided, the facts of a case do not fit precisely into the definition, and therefore more analysis is needed. Such was the case in Cieslewicz v. Forest Pres. Dist. of Cook County, 2012 IL App (1st) 100801 , in which the court examined the meaning of ‘owner,’ where a victim was attacked by a stray dog in the Cook County Forest Preserve, and sought damages against the county. There the court decided that the element of ownership as to the defendant has not been met where the dogs were not “knowingly permitted” upon the property, their transient presence suggested they did not “remain.”

Recovery under Illinois dog bite statute requires that each element be proved. However, for many victims, establishing liability will often center on a claimant’s ability to prove a particular issue in dispute. In other words, rare is the case in which a matter reaches trial stage and every issue remains disputed. For example, where it has been clearly established that the attack occurred in a place where the plaintiff was lawfully entitled to be, the parties may agree to stipulate that this specific fact is undisputed, and therefore no longer ‘at issue,’ or the court, upon a party’s motion, may determine the same.

Consequently, to better understand liability, in regard to YOUR specific case, it is helpful to individually view some of the most commonly disputed issues in dog bite and animal attack cases, such as:

Upon assessing liability, it is also important to consider potential sources of compensation. In civil actions, when a party opponent is found to be at fault, and a monetary judgment is entered against that person or entity, the prevailing party’s receipt of award proceeds is dependent on that party’s ability to pay. While judgments can be renewed, the better approach is to assess and identify all readily available sources of financial compensation (i.e. insurance policies; defendant’s assets; government liability sources). For more information on this topic, see ‘ Liability Sources in Dog Bite Injury Cases.’

If you were attacked, injured, or harmed in an incident involving a dog owned by another, it is important that you select an experienced attorney that can effectively advocate on your behalf. The Dog bite Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. want to help you and your family attain the maximum amount of financial compensation deserved. Contact us at 773-516-4100.

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