Illinois: Fourth worst dog bite state

On Behalf of The Law Offices of Goldfine & Bowles, P.C.

July 26, 2020

MoneyWise reports that dogs bite 4.5 million Americans every year. In 2018 alone, insurance companies paid out $675 million in dog bite claims, representing one-third of all premises liability claims covered by homeowner’s insurance.

Unfortunately, Illinois ranks as one of the top five dog bite states as follows:

  1. California
  2. Florida
  3. Texas
  4. Illinois
  5. New York

In 2018, insurance companies paid out $29.2 million for 822 Illinois dog bite claims, paying an average $35,553 per claim. What makes these figures even more incredible is the fact that Illinois has one of the lowest percentages nationwide of dog ownership. Only 31% of Illinois households own a dog.

Animal Control Act

The Illinois Bar Journal attributes the high number of Illinois dog bite claims to the state’s Animal Control Act that places a high level of liability on dog owners whose dogs attack human beings or other animals. While the Act stops short of holding a dog owner strictly liable for the injuries their dogs cause, it does make the owner liable for the total amount of any and all injuries the victim receives when the dog attacks, attempts to attack or otherwise injures the person without provocation.

“Reasonable dog” standard

The term “without provocation” often becomes highly relevant in Illinois dog bite cases. The Act makes provocation a valid defense if the owner can prove that the victim somehow provoked the dog into attacking him or her. Provocative acts include the following:

  • Hitting the dog
  • Stepping on its tail
  • Pulling on its tail, ears, legs, fur, etc.
  • Startling it
  • Trapping it in a small space

Under Illinois’s reasonable dog standard, the jury in a dog bite case may consider not only what a reasonable dog would do in a situation similar to that presented in the case at hand, but also what a reasonable person would expect the dog’s reaction to be.