Understanding ‘Peaceable Conduct’ in Dog Bites and Animal Attacks

The Chicago Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. represent the plaintiffs in civil actions in recovering damages in claims brought forth pursuant the Illinois Animal Control Act. Establishing liability following an attack, injury, or other incident in which a victim is harmed by a dog requires the claimant to prove four elements: (1) injury caused by animal owned by the defendant; (2) lack of provocation; (3) peaceable conduct of injured; and (4) plaintiff was in a place where he had a right to be. Here, we discuss the third element, to assist victims in their understanding the meaning of ‘peaceable conduct’ in Dog Bite and Animal Attacks.

Just as with the elements regarding ‘provocation and ‘lawful presence,’ the Illinois Animal Control Act does not define the term ‘peaceable conduct.’ Therefore, the plaintiff’s conduct at the time of the incident must be assessed in accordance with the purpose and intention of the act. In addition to ‘encouraging tight control of animals for protection of the public,’ the legislative intent in enacting the statute was to ‘provide coverage for plaintiffs who, by virtue of their relationship to the owner of the dog or other animal or lack of such relationship, may not have any way of knowing or avoiding the risk that the animal poses to them.’ See Meyer v. Naperville Manor Inc., 634 N.E.2d 411 (1994), 262 Ill. App.3d 141, 199, Ill.Dec. 572.

Consequently, determining whether or not a victim was peaceably conducting him or herself, for purposes of establishing a cause of action for the recovery of damages in a dog-related incident, is highly dependent on the facts associated with a particular case. In other words, the same conduct could be considered as peaceable in one scenario, and unpeaceable in another, depending on the circumstances involved. For example, similar to ‘lawful presence,’ a plaintiff may still establish ‘peaceable conduct,’ even where the victim was violating a law at the time of the incident.

This issue was discussed in detail in Garcia v. Nelson, 759 N.E.2d 601 (2001), in which the court determined that although riding an ATV upon a public road was unlawful, such conduct could not be said to be ‘unpeaceable’ for purposes of recovering damages under the Act, following a collision with a dog that was roaming freely on a public right-of-way. In Garcia, the court first assessed ‘peaceable conduct’ as the term is commonly understood, stating:

“[…] giving the words at issue their ordinary meanings, we cannot say that illegal conduct is never "peaceable." Dictionaries define "peaceable" as "quietly behaved" or "marked by freedom from strife or disorder" and peace as a state of "public tranquility; freedom from civil disturbance or hostility.” These definitions accord with (or reflect) long-standing judicial definitions of the "public peace" as the general tranquility and good order and a "breach of the peace" as "conduct that invites or is likely to invite immediate public turbulence, or that leads to or is likely to lead to an immediate loss of public order and tranquility." (internal citations omitted)

In concluding that “[b]ecause not every unlawful act tends to cause turbulence or public disorder, one may violate the law while still acting peaceably,” the Court in Garcia further stated that

“[…] as is true with the "lawful place" element, defining "peaceable" conduct narrowly would not serve the purposes of the Act and could lead to absurd or unjust results. The legislature might well wish to deny aid to one who disturbs the public peace, as he ought to realize that his conduct might arouse the fighting instincts of a nearby animal. However, denying relief to anyone who violates any law would not sensibly distinguish between "innocent bystanders" and those who invite or assume the risk of injury from the animal. Instead, an indiscriminate policy of denying recovery where there is any illegality would convert watchdogs who guard their owners' persons and property into deputy dogs who may enforce all manner of laws with no relation to the welfare of animals or animal owners. The Act could not have been meant to penalize attack victims for acts unrelated to their injuries or to give animal owners such a windfall.

While a plaintiff must both plead and prove all four elements in a cause of action for a dog-related incident, it is also important to note that the court’s assessment of one element may have bearing on another. In example, a plaintiff might be injured while peaceably conducting oneself in a place lawfully entitled to be, but still be found to have provoked the incident. This is precisely why it is critical that dog bite and animal attack victims secure representation form a legal professional with the competency, proficiency, knowledge, and experience, to effectively advocate on their behalf.

The Chicago Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer, P.C. offer free personal injury consultation in all personal injury and wrongful death matters. Contact us online, or by calling 773-516-4100.

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