WHEN DOGS ATTACK - A LOOK AT THE ILLINOIS ANIMAL CONTROL ACT
Check out the August issue of the Illinois Bar Journal for a good article by April Pruitt-Summers on the Illinois Animal Control Act, 510 ILCS 5/1 et. seq. The first thing that caught my eye was the link to a study conducted by pediatrician Jeffrey Sacks M.D. and reported in PEDIATRICS[Vol. 97, No. 6, ppss. 891-95]. The link contains some pretty sobering statistics. From 1989 to 1994, on average, there were 18 deaths per year due to dog attacks. Nearly 60% of those deaths were children under the age of 10. As Ms. Pruitt-Summers notes in her article, dog-bite cases, which are sometimes scoffed at, are now getting much more attention, particularly in light of the attention the media is giving to attacks by “bully breed” dogs.
According to the article, in order to recover under the Act, the plaintiff must prove:
1) an injury, caused by a dog owned by defendant;
2) lack of provocation;
3) peaceable conduct on the part of plaintiff; and
4) the plaintiff was in a location where he or she was entitled to be. 510 ILCS 5/1 et. seq.
As to injury, Ms. Pruitt-Summers notes that an actual bite is not necessary. A plaintiff can be injured simply by colliding with the dog. In addition, “ownership” as used in the Act, doesn’t imply actual legal ownership. Instead, the person keeping the dog, or acting as the dog’s custodian can be held responsible. Under the Act, the plaintiff is only obligated to prove that the defendant had some measure of control.
With respect to provocation, the analysis is whether the behavior in question is provocative to the dog. As the author explains, in deciding motions based upon provocation, the Court looks at the behavior from the dog’s perspective, as opposed to the perspective of the victim. Finally, with respect to the final element, the plaintiff can only recover if he has a right to be where the incident took place. The Act bars recovery to people who are injured while trespassing.
The article is fairly comprehensive and worth a look before filing that dog bite complaint.
And, all this talk of dog bite cases reminds me of a story…
Several years ago, I was prosecuting a dog bite case. The dog in question was an enormous, male German Shepherd. The entire time the defense lawyer kept assuring me that the dog was really quite gentle and wouldn’t harm a fly. He was convinced my client had provoked the dog. As it turns out, I secured an order to do an inspection of where the incident took place – the defendant’s home. My client had been invited to the home for a business meeting. When I arrived at the home at the appointed hour, just myself and the other lawyer were present. The homeowner had given a key to the defense lawyer. The hound however, was home. And he wasn’t in his cage. The defense lawyer inserted the key in the outer door to go inside. Immediately, there was a low, deep, growl on the other side of the door. As the lawyer turned the key, the growl became much louder. Then, the beast began to bark. Short, disturbing, staccato barks, not unlike a hyena. Then came the violent scratching. From my vantage point, the dog had apparently decided to actually eat through the door in order to get to whomever was foolish enough to be on the other side. My defense lawyer friend was frozen in place.
I couldn’t resist.
“What’s the matter?”, I asked. “You said the dog was gentle. Open the door, let’s get this over with.”
He was having none of it.
“I’m not going in there. We’ll wait for the owner to get here”.
Shortly thereafter, the case settled.