Illinois Dog Bite Laws

The laws governing dogs and animal bites in Illinois are constantly changing, and are often confusing for the victim of a dog bite. The first step in understanding your rights is knowing where those rights come from and the laws that affect you. If you decide to pursue a legal claim, you need to contact an Illinois dog bite lawyer who not only knows those laws but can navigate your case complex insurance policies and exclusions to ensure someone is held responsible for your injuries. Dogs can be man’s best friend, but they can also inflict serious and permanent damage.

Illinois Animal Control Act

The Illinois Animal Control Act (510 ILCS 5/) outlines the legal rights and remedies available to people throughout the State of Illinois that have been injured by an animal. This law is not applicable to just dogs, but more often than not lawyers apply to this statute to dog bite injuries. The Act also outlines requirements for giving dogs rabies vaccines and how to deal with stray animals, but the portion applicable to a dog bite injury is in Section 16:

“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.”

The Illinois Animal Control Act guides people on how to control their animals and permits an injured person to recover money if they have been bitten by a dog. The language of the law is very similar to strict liability standards, which means there is almost no excuse to allow your dog to bite someone.  Under the Act, you can recover damages against the owner of the dog if: 

  1. the person actually owned the animal;
  2. you did not provoke the dog; 
  3. you were acting “peaceably”; and 
  4. you were standing in a place where you are legally entitled to be.

If you can prove all four of those things, then you are entitled to recover money from the dog’s owner for your medical bills, any future medical care, pain and suffering, lost wages, and disfigurement for any scars you have after the attack.

The Illinois Animal Control Act defines an owner as:

  • “[A]ny 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.” Section 2.16.


This definition allows an injured person to recover against people that legally own a dog and people that take care of the dog (or fail to take care of it).  Essentially, anyone who exhibits some measure of care, custody, and control over an animal can be held responsible for your dog bite injuries.  While these requirements allow you to bring a claim against more than one person, they can also limit liability too.  For example, a landlord who simply knows that a dog lives on his rental property is not liable for any dog bite because the landlord is not controlling that animal. To demonstrate control an Illinois dog bite injury law needs to show that the person paid money for the dog, provided the dog a place to live, fed the animal, or enjoying the benefit the dog guarding his property.

We have written an in-depth article on what constitutes an owner under the Illinois Animal Control Act – read more about Whose Dog Is This? 

Illinois Case Law On Dog Bites

Common Law From Dog Bite Court Cases

Any time a judge makes a decision in Court, applying a fact pattern to the current law, it is called a ruling or an Order. This Order then becomes part of the “common law.” Many times these Orders are published so that lawyers and other judges can see what the latest interpretations are and adjuster their own arguments and rulings accordingly. This allows the law in Illinois to be consistent from one courthouse to the next and in front of all the judges. Lawyers refer to this process as “stare decisis.”

Judges conform their rulings to the common law, and lawyers base their arguments on the common law. Sometimes, either because of unique fact patterns, changes in society, or changes in the statutory law, judges break from prior Orders and change the common law. While this allows our law to keep pace with changes in social values and norms, it makes this difficult for people trying to assert claims based on the common law that is constantly changing.

The “One Free Bite Rule” is the common law for dog bite claims in Illinois that often stands between the victims of an animal attack and recovering their bills and damages.  The idea of a dog getting “one free bite” before the animal and its owner can be held accountable is somewhat misleading and is not entirely accurate.

The One Free Bite Rule comes up in common law negligence cases, where a plaintiff must prove that a defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, breached that duty, and the breach proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries.  Specific to dog bites and animal attacks, even if the defendant owed a duty to keep his or her animal under control, the plaintiff must still show that the owner or landowner knew the dog had dangerous propensities. See Edwards v. Lombardi, 2013 IL App (3d) 120518.  Importantly, merely relying on the dangerous and violent nature of certain breeds may not be enough to create knowledge of dangerous propensities. What this means is that without a bite or attack in the past, a dog owner can claim he did not know his dog could be a danger to other people in the community.  Essentially, this can result in a dog getting “one free bite” before it is a known danger and an injured people can collect damages.

Unfortunately, yes, the One Free Bite Rule is still good law under a common law negligence theory.  However, every case and every injury are unique and many factors can overcome the One Free Bite Rule as a defense. The best way to know how Illinois common law affects your dog bite claim is to contact an experienced dog bite injury law.
The Illinois Appellate Court ruled in Hayes v. Adams that once a dog owner relinquishes control of a dog to his veterinarian, then he extinguishes liability for that dog’s behavior. Courts now look to the specific facts to see who has the right and ability to control a dog, and prevent it from biting a victim, rather than impose strict liability under the Animal Control Act.  This is one example of how an experienced Illinois dog bite lawyer can guide your claim through the maze of new case law and use both the statute and the common law to protect your legal rights and maximize your compensation.

The law in Illinois for rental property is: “a landlord owes no duty to a tenant’s invitee to prevent injuries proximately caused by an animal kept by the tenant on the leased premises if the landlord does not retain control over the area where the injury occurred.” This means that unless the landlord took some affirmative action to house, protect or harbor the dog, then he is not responsible if that dog bites someone.

Basically, a landlord does not owe a duty to protect anyone from a dog, unless he takes some step to welcome and house that dog on his land.  Part of this consideration is whether the landlord knew there was a dangerous dog on the property he owned and rented to someone else. For instance, if the landlord receives complaints of vicious dogs or witnesses dogs with inherently dangerous propensities during an inspection of the property, and does nothing, he could be considered to “harbor” those animals.  This can be very difficult to prove.  Notably, if the dog leaves the rented property and attacks someone on another piece of property, the landlord cannot be held responsible.

Municipal Statutes Relating to Dog Bites

Local Laws From Cities In Illinois

  • Springfield ::  Springfield City Code