At common law in Illinois, if a person was bitten by a dog and suffered an injury, he could only recover for his damages if he could prove the dog had previously shown a disposition to “bite mankind,” and that the dog’s owner had notice of this disposition, such as knowledge that the dog had bitten someone before. Absent evidence of a dog’s vicious propensities, he was presumed to be “tame, docile, and harmless.” Additionally, the injured person could not recover for his injury if he knowingly approached the dangerous dog, or provoked him. The liability of the dog owner was through an act of negligence, and only if he harbored a “vicious dog”. The burden of proof was on the injured person.
The Animal Control Act was enacted to eliminate the requirement of negligence on the part of the Defendant dog owner. The relevant part of the Animal Control Act states:
510 ILCS 5/16: Sec. 16.p:
“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 another animal is liable in civil damages to such person for the full amount of the injury proximately caused thereby.”
In order to recover under the Animal Control Act, the injured person must only prove:
1. an injury caused by an animal owned by the defendant,
2. lack of provocation;
3. the peaceable conduct of the injured person; and
4. the presence of the injured person in a place where he has a legal right to be.
One of the reasons that the Animal Control Act became law was to eliminate the requirement that an injured party proves that the animal owner knew or should have known about the animal’s dangerous propensities. The purpose of mandating liability in the Act is to encourage animal owners to keep their pets restrained in order to protect the public from harm. The burden of proof remains with the Plaintiff seeking recovery, however, under the Act, he must provide proof on the issue of lack of provocation instead of the owner’s notice of the animal’s disposition.
If you have been attacked by an animal that resulted in an injury, please contact our office immediately for the advisement of your rights.