Illinois is a strict liability state.


Illinois_state_sealThe State of Illinois has a statute that makes the owner, harborer or keeper of any animal (whether or not a dog) liable for injuries to people, whether or not caused by a bite, without negligence on the part of the defendant. Although the dog bite statute uses the word "owner," the term is defined as "any person having a right of property in an animal, or who keeps or harbors an animal, or who has it in his care, or acts as its custodian, or who knowingly permits a dog to remain on any premises occupied by him or her." (510 ILCS 5/2.16.)

The relevant part of the Animal Control Act is as follows:

p510 ILCS 5/16:Sec. 16.p

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.

A dog bite victim can bring a claim against a dog owner based upon the foregoing statute. Additionally, a victim can reach owners and other potential defendants, such as the custodian of the dog, on the ground of negligence or negligence per se.

Click here to read the Illinois statutes, entitled be "Animal Control Act." Click here to download the official jury instruction and its annotations, which provide an excellent, comprehensive brief of the elements of the cause of action, as well as the defenses to it. See Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA for an overview of the available causes of action.


Emotional distress

Damages for mental pain and suffering may be a proper element of damages, as long as these psychic injuries are connected with a physical injury. Martino v. Family Service, 112 Ill. App. 3d 593, 445 N.E.2d 6 (1982). Generally, mental pain and suffering alone is insufficient to allow for the recovery of damage. However, under the ‘zone of danger' doctrine, a person who is in a zone of physical danger, and because of this has a fear for their own safety, has a right of action for physical injury relating to emotional distress. Illinois courts have also ruled that there may be damages awarded for mental pain and distress without physical contact or injury to the person. Allen v. Otis, 206 Ill. App. 3d 173, 563 N.E.2d 826, appeal denied, 141 Ill. 2d 535, 580 N.E.2d 107 (1990).


Pending legislation

Sen. Don Harmon introduced SB1279, making it illegal for an insurance company to discriminate against breeds of dog. One of its sponsors (Sen. Pamela J. Althoff) has withdrawn her sponsorship, it is stalled in the Senate, and has not even reached the House. (To read the bill and check on its status, click on the link in the previous sentence.) However, this proposed law is seriously flawed for five reasons.

First, it fails to require insurance companies to insure against dog bites and other canine-inflicted injuries in the first place. By focusing only on discrimination in the setting of premiums, it ignores the "big picture," which is that many insurers discriminate against all dog owners by completely excluding canine-inflicted injuries from all homeowner and renter policies. (See Insurance for the Dog Owner for details.) Full coverage is needed by all dog owners for their own good and should be mandatory, as a condition of dog ownership, for the compensation of dog-bite victims. Companies selling homeowner or renters insurance should be required to include coverage for canine-inflicted injuries, either as part of the standard policy or as an "add-on." Once that insurance is offered, then it should be illegal to discriminate. However, the prohibition against discrimination cannot exist in a vaccum.

Second, the proposed law is flawed because it neglects to take into account non-ownership of a dog. A policyholder should not have to pay for this coverage if he does not own a dog. It is only fair that people who do not own dogs should not have to pay for damage done by dogs. The bill does not address this issue at all.

Third, the owners of 5-pound dogs and other small dogs should not have to pay the same premium as the owners of dogs that are big, strong, and proven to be dangerous. It is obvious that there are distinctions among the types of dogs, in that small dogs with small teeth generally are incapable of inflicting the same degree of damage that can be done by big dogs with big teeth. Therefore it would appear fair to provide that the cost of this insurance should be more or less "by the pound," meaning the size of the dog.

Fourth, those who own one dog should pay less than those who have two, three, four or more. The more dogs you own, the more you should pay. It works that way for cars too. And there is an additional reason here: your dogs work in a pack, while your cars do not. In other words, when it comes to having multiple dogs, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, because dog packs are more dangerous than dogs working alone. The proposed law does not address this.

Fifth, those who own good dogs should not have to pay the same amount as those who own "bad" dogs, meaning those having a history of biting people. This not only is more fair, but will have the beneficial effect of making people think twice about keeping a proven "bad" dog. SB 1279 says that insurers can refuse to insure dogs which have been "found to be vicious under Section 15 of the Animal Control Act." The bill fails to address how premiums are set for dogs that are dangerous, as opposed to officially "vicious."

In conclusion, even though this proposed law states that insurance companies should not be permitted to cancel policies based upon the breed of dog, the law is flawed because it is missing five important features:

  • Coverage for canine-inflicted injuries should be offered as part of every policy of homeowner and renter insurance.
  • People who do not own dogs should not have to pay for this coverage.
  • The owners of big dogs should be required to pay higher premiums than the owners of small dogs, because of the greater losses caused by bigger, more powerful dogs.
  • People who own more than one dog should pay more than people who own fewer dogs.
  • The owners of dogs having a history of dangerousness should pay more than the owners of "good" dogs.


Dog Bite Lawsuit Forms

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