Responsible Pet Ownership

The Chicago Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. represent victims that sustained personal injury or property damage due to a dog, or other animal, owned by another. In most cases, animal attacks involve dogs, but can also involve a cat, or another type of animal (i.e. snake, horse, exotic animal etc.). As legal professionals, with decades of practice experience, we find that the vast majority of animal-related incidents can be prevented through responsible pet ownership, supervision, and care. Below, we discuss some valuable tips, which we feel are indispensable components to owning or caring for an animal.

First and foremost, it is important to know the law regarding animals, both at state and local levels. With regard to state law, regulations pertaining to animals in Illinois are set forth in 510 ILCS 5, referred to as the ‘Animal Control Act.’ In summation, the act provides that when a person owns, keeps, or cares for an animal that attacks, attempts to attack, or injures another, without provocation, that person can be held civilly liable for damages incurred as a result. Consequently, pursuant to Illinois law, an individual can be held liable for a dog attack, even where that person does not actually own the dog, so long as the incident occurred while the animal was under their care or control.

In addition, it is equally important to understand that state law permits individual municipalities to enact rules, regulations, or ordinances which further serve the purpose of the Illinois Animal Control Act. Chicago, and nearly every one of its suburbs, regulate the ownership, care, control, and/or presence of animals within their jurisdiction, through local ordinance/code. In most cities/towns/villages there are regulations regarding leashing, licensing, and vaccinations, but many also regulate the quantity or type of animals permitted, and/or impose restrictions/conditions on dangerous/vicious dogs, such as additional fees/identification of dangerous dog; special enclosure, tethering, or signage requirements; and in some cases, even requiring dog owners to obtain liability insurance.

While awareness and obeisance of the law is essential, knowing your animal’s particular propensities, is vital as well. At a very minimum owners should know the manner in which their dog responds to other persons and/or specific types of people, based on the dog’s prior actions and/or history (i.e. reaction to males versus females or adults versus children). In example, where an individual has adopted a rescue dog that was formerly abused, exposure to certain things or people may cause the dog to react by biting, attacking, or chasing.

Knowing your dog’s ability and tendency to escape is critical too. Owners must remember that while a dog that escapes accidentally, may not result in a violation of state law or local ordinance, if the dog subsequently attacks, injures, bites or causes damages to a person or their property, the owner may still be held liable in a civil action extending from the incident. Owners should be aware of each and every means of escape, including:

  • Doors (i.e., how will your dog react when a door is left open, or when persons enter or exit?)
  • Windows (i.e., can your dog exit through unscreened windows, or break through screened windows?)
  • Collar/harnesses (i.e., can your dog’s head slip out of its collar, or is the dog able to maneuver out of its harness?)
  • Enclosures (i.e., can your dog climb over, break through, or dig under a fence or enclosed area?)
  • Leash Control (i.e., is the dog strong enough to pull away from your control?)

It is especially vital to consider your dog’s tendencies whenever entrusting your dog to the custody, care, or control of others. No dog owner wants to place themselves, let alone a friend or relative in a position that may potentially expose them to liability. In some cases, entrusting the care of a dog to a professional service is the more suitable approach to take in preventing a dog’s escape, attack, bite, or other destruction or harm to a person or property. Owners should consider entrustment concerns when selecting a facility or service provider (i.e. licensing, insurance, contract terms, liability) both with regard to daily/routine dog walking and/or ‘doggy day-care,’ as well as overnight, short-term, or long term care.

Although knowing the law and knowing your dog can greatly reduce the risk of a dog bite or attack incident, owners must keep in mind that animals can often be unpredictable. Further, whether an owner did or did not know about the dog’s propensities is irrelevant once an incident occurs. In other words, lack of knowledge is no defense. Consequently, Both renters and homeowner should understand the benefits of obtaining pet liability insurance.

If you are renting and own a pet, some renter’s insurance policies will include pet liability coverage, while others consider such coverage to be a separate or additional policy benefit. If you own a home and have a dog or other animals, it is important to ensure that your policy covers animal-related incidents, and whether the coverage provided is sufficient. In either case, the contractual terms set forth in the policy will outline the extent and availability of coverage, as well as any limitations.

If you have questions or concerns regarding liability associated with a dog or other animal, we encourage you to contact Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. by calling 773-516-4100, or by using the form provided on this page, and allow our experienced dog bite attorneys to explain your legal rights.

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