Dog Bite Levels: Can You Sue for a Dog Bite in Illinois? Date: Mar 7, 2024

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States, with 800,000 receiving medical attention. Each bite varies in intensity, resulting in different physical, emotional and financial losses. Fortunately, Illinois law allows people who encounter such incidents to claim compensation.

In this guide, you will learn the laws on animal attacks, the different levels of dog bites, what to do in the event of a dog-related incident and how much you can get for a dog bite lawsuit or settlement. Remember, there is a deadline for filing a dog bite lawsuit, so you must act quickly.

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What Are the Illinois Dog Bite Laws?

There are three essential areas of law to consider regarding dog bites in Illinois. These are:

1. The Animal Control Act

The State of Illinois has a statute called the Animal Control Act, which allows you to recover for various types of dog attacks, including bites. The law also applies to other animals, particularly those that can be affected by rabies.

To recover under the dog bite statute, the person instituting the legal action — called the plaintiff— must prove four elements:

  1. The defendant owned and/or harbored the dog that caused the injury
  2. A lack of provocation
  3. Peaceable conduct
  4. Lawful presence

These elements must be proven on a balance of probabilities. That is to say, the plaintiff must establish that their story is more likely to be true considering the evidence on record. But who is responsible for paying for the attack?

Generally, there are two ways to determine who is liable. First, the plaintiff may sue the owner of the dog. Second, the plaintiff may sue the person in control of the dog during the attack. For example, if the owner left the dog with a friend who assumed control of the pet, the friend may be liable for the attack, depending on the facts of the case.

It’s also vital to note that besides the Animal Control Act, most cities in Illinois have ordinances in relation to dogs and other animals. A classic example is the Chicago Municipal Code, which requires animals to be restrained. Other communities also have breed-specific laws, such as the City of North Chicago Municipal Code, which provides several requirements for pitbull owners.

2. Tort of Negligence

Negligence is the legal basis for most personal injury lawsuits. Although some aspects of negligence are covered by legislation, the core principles are developed based on case law. In a negligence case, the plaintiff must provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate the following:

  1. The person being sued— called the defendant — owes the plaintiff a duty of care.
  2. The defendant breached that duty.
  3. There was an injury proximately resulting from the breach.

Thus, the plaintiff may sue for damages when the dog owner or person in control of the dog does or refrains from doing something reasonably expected of them, resulting in the incident.

3. Strict Liability

Generally, the defendant’s knowledge of the dog’s dangerous tendencies is important when establishing liability. The situation is different in strict liability cases. Under strict liability law, there is no need to demonstrate that the defendant was negligent or that they were aware of the dog’s potential to cause harm. Establishing that the dog attacked is sufficient to get compensation.

What Are the Levels of Dog Bites?

Dog bites can be minor or severe, depending on factors like the dog’s breed, the victim’s age and the cause of the bite incident. However, we may categorize the intensity into different levels to paint a clearer picture. Below is the Dunbar Dog Bite Scale:

  • Level one: Mostly minor attacks and aggressive behavior, including barking, growling and jumping on the plaintiff. These usually cause frights.
  • Level two: Constitutes minor attacks, although they leave marks on the plaintiff’s skin.
  • Level three: Comprises moderate scratches and bites, causing the skin to slightly puncture. The animal often shows mildly aggressive behavior.
  • Level four: Involves multiple dog bites and bruises. Dogs in this category are typically aggressive.
  • Level five: Constitutes serious dog bites resulting in deep puncture wounds, bone fractures, nerve damage and other related injuries.
  • Level six: Constitutes fatal injuries from highly aggressive animals.

What Should You Do if a Dog Attacks?

Below are the vital things to do when a dog attacks:

  1. Clean the bite wounds and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
  2. Report the incident to the police or the local animal control.
  3. Try getting the responsible person’s contact details.
  4. Gather as much evidence as possible, including photographs of the injury, eyewitnesses and the clothes you wore when the incident happened.
  5. Collect copies of the medical bills and other related expenses.
  6. Write down everything you remember about the incident.
  7. Contact a personal injury attorney immediately.

How Much Can You Sue for a Dog Bite?

Generally, the defendant is liable for the total amount of the injury caused by the animal. The exact amount differs from case to case. In assessing damages, the court considers various factors, including:

  • Medical expenses: The plaintiff may sue for all related medical expenses resulting from the injury. This includes the cost of medical treatment, hospitalization, medicine and follow-up care.
  • Lost income: The plaintiff may recover damages for lost wages during the injury and healing period when they could not work.
  • Loss of future earnings: If the injury results in a temporary or permanent disability that affects the plaintiff’s ability to continue working, they may obtain compensation for the income they would have received in the foreseeable future.
  • Pain and suffering: The plaintiff may also recover damages for the emotional and physical pain suffered. The court will consider factors like the level of dog bite and the victim’s age.
  • Property damage: If the plaintiff lost any property due to the incident, they may claim them in damages. Loss in this context also includes damaged properties. 

There are different types of damages in civil lawsuits:

  • Compensatory damages: The compensation received, covering losses for the injury. Generally, the aim is to place the plaintiff in the position they would have been but for the incident.
  • Nominal damages: The damage awarded to show that the defendant committed a legal wrong. It’s usually awarded when the injury is not severe.
  • Punitive damages: The damage awarded as punishment for the defendant. It’s typically awarded when defendants act maliciously.

What Is the Deadline for Filing a Dog Bite Lawsuit in Illinois?

Under the statute of limitations, the plaintiff must file a dog bite lawsuit within two years from the date of the bite. If you fail to do so, your rights to institute legal action against the defendant may be extinguished. In other words, you may be unable to recover compensation in court. Thus, it’s essential to treat the matter as urgent and contact a personal injury lawyer immediately.

Contact Experienced Personal Injury Lawyers in Illinois

The Law Offices of Argionis and Associates, LLC, is one of Chicago’s most respected law firms. We handle many personal injury cases, including dog bites and animal-related injuries. Our lawyers are knowledgeable and have years of experience. Contact us now for a free consultation. We only get paid when we win for you!

George Argionis has over 20 years of experience in handling cases involving auto collisions, premises injuries, medical malpractice, product liability, construction-related and work-related injuries. He has dedicated his career to helping restore lives both emotionally and economically.