Whose Dog Is This?

Using the Illinois Animal Control Act to Determine Liability After a Dog Bite

When someone is attacked by a dog in Illinois, they may have both a negligence case and a claim under the Animal Control Act (510 ILCS 5/16).  Negligence cases are getting harder to win under the One Free Bite Rule, but the Animal Control Act has a few things that can make a dog bite case much easier to prove …. if you have the right elements.

When someone is attacked by a dog in Illinois, they may have both a negligence case and a claim under the Animal Control Act (510 ILCS 5/16).  Negligence involves four basic elements: duty, breach, causation and damages that are the bread and butter of almost every personal injury case. Choate v. Indiana Harbor Belt R.R. Co., 2012 IL 112948.  However, the Animal Control Act has a few notably wrinkles that can make a dog bite case much easier to prove …. if you have the right elements.

Section 16 of the Act provides:

“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.”

Essentially, to recover money for injuries suffered in a dog attack under the Illinois Animal Control Act, the dog bite lawyer needs to show

  • an animal (dog) attacked
  • the victim was allowed to in the area where the attack occurred (i.e. not trespassing)
  • the attack occurred without a good cause (provocation)
  • and the person you are suing owned the dog. Kindel v. Tennis, 409 Ill. App. 3d 1138, 1140, 949 N.E.2d 1119, 1121 (2011).

One of the most critical questions then becomes, who “owns” the dog for purposes of bringing a claim under the Animal Control Act.  The Act itself gives us some information, stating:

“‘Owner’ means 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. ‘Owner’ does not include  a  feral  cat  caretaker  participating  in  a  trap,  spay/neuter,  return  or  release program.” 510 ILCS 5/2.16 


Importantly, this expands the concept of a dog “owner” to people that also “keep” or “harbor” dogs or even allow the dog to stay on the same piece of property where they live.  These definitions can cover a lot of unique situations and prevent issues where someone simply says: “That isn’t my dog.”  This expanded definition of “owner” is necessary because “the overriding purpose of the Act is the protection of the public from harm, the Act imposes penalties against both the owner of the animal and anyone ‘who places himself in a position of control akin to an owner.’” Beggs v. Griffith, 913 N.E.2d 1230, 1235 (Ill. App. 2009) (quoting Wilcoxen v. Paige, 528 N.E.2d 1104, 1106 (Ill. App. 1988)).

That sounds great, but what the heck does “harbor” mean with a dog?

The Illinois Supreme Court helped us out with this, by outlining that in order to harbor a dog, a person must exhibit some measure of care, custody, andcontrol. Steinberg v. Petta, 501 N.E.2d 1263, 1265 (Ill. 1986).  For example, a landlord who simply knows that a dog lives on his rental property is not liable for injuries inflicted by that dog because the landlord is not controlling that animal. Cieslewicz v. Forest Preserve District, 976 N.E.2d 370 (Ill. App. 2012). This control must also be in effect at the time of the injury occurred or immediately prior to the injury. Frost v. Robave, Inc., 694 N.E.2d 581, 585 (Ill. App. 1998).  Control can be demonstrated by a number of things like had a property interest in a dog (paid money for it, provided the housing or feeding the animal, or enjoying any benefit by its existence, such as, for example, guarding the property.  This last example only really works if the dog’s primary purpose is as a guard dog. Howle v. Aqua Illinois, Inc., 2012 IL App (4th).

Basically this means that a landlord is not liable for injuries by a tenants dog unless there is proof of some other control of the animal.

Ultimately, if you have been attacked by a dog or another animal, a fairly complex legal analysis is necessary to determine who owns the animal and who may be responsible for your medical bills, scarring and lost wages.  Contact an Illinois dog bite lawyer today to determine who is responsible for your injuries and how to protect your legal rights.