State Farm Insurance compiled statistics nationally for its dog bite claims, and Illinois comes in second in the country–only behind California.
As discussed in a KWQC story, the report, based on statistics from 2012, has Illinois residents filing 377 claims, with millions of dollars in total payouts from many different insurers..
The US Postal Service’s statistics paint a similar picture. Every May, the USPS holds National Dog Bite Prevention Week in an effort to increase awareness of the dangers of dog bites. Last May, the Postal Service ranked the most dangerous cities for postal workers in terms of dog bites. Chicago came in third, with 47 postal workers being attacked in fiscal year 2012.
Dog bites are potentially very dangerous. They carry with them the possibility of severe muscle damage, blood loss, permanent nerve damage, disfigurement, rabies, or death. But in Illinois, who is responsible when a dog bites?
The Common Dog Bite Law
Under old negligence rules, an owner of a dog was only responsible for the bites he knew or should have known were probable. If the owner knew his dog was dangerous, he was liable for any bite the dog took. If he did not know his dog was dangerous, then he was not responsible for the first time the dog bit someone. This was colloquially called the “first bite free rule,” and a minority of states in the US retain this theory of negligence.
Some states have adopted breed specific legislation, or BSL. Under BSL, certain breeds of dog are considered per se dangerous, and thus the owner of such a breed will be liable for any of his dog’s bites. This has proven controversial, as animal rights groups argue that it is not the dog that is dangerous, but the owner.
Regardless, local residents should know that Illinois has adopted strict liability for dog bite by statute.
Strict Liability by Statute in Illinois and Other States for Dog Bites
Many states have done away with the common law “first bite free rule,” and have adopted strict liability for dog bites. In negligence theory, everyone has a duty to act as a reasonable, prudent person would. If someone breaches this duty and that breach causes injury, they are liable to the injured party. Under strict liability, the plaintiff does not have to establish breach of duty. The activity is so dangerous that simply engaging in the activity will render the defendant liable if someone is injured.
Such is the case with dog bites under Illinois statute. If a dog bites, then the owner is liable for the injury. The damages a plaintiff can recover include the doctor’s bills for treatment of the injury, lost wages, lost future income, and, in severe cases, pain and suffering.