This past week, personal injury attorney Brent Eames settled a lawsuit filed in LaSalle County, Illinois on behalf of a client who suffered a serious knee injury as a result of an off-leash dog running and colliding with her lower extremities. Suit was filed against the dog’s owner, alleging negligence in failing to properly control the animal, as well as liability pursuant to the Animal Control Act. At the pretrial conference with the presiding Judge, the parties agreed to settle the matter for the lump sum of $260,000.00, which represents compensation for related medical expenses, as well as associated pain and suffering caused by the injuries.
The Animal Control Act protects those injured from dangerous animals and their negligent owners. The law eliminated the so-called “one-bite rule” which only applied strict liability onto the owner of the animal if the plaintiff was able to prove that the owner knew or should have known about the animal’s dangerous tendencies. Instead, the Animal Control Act provides strict liability for injuries caused by an animal, provided there is a lack of provocation, peaceful conduct of the person injured, and lawful presence on the property at the time of the injury.
As defined in the Act, an “animal” is every living creature, other than man, which may be affected by rabies. Additionally, an “owner” is broadly defined. An owner is defined by the Act as anyone having the right of property in an animal; anyone who keeps or harbors an animal; anyone who has an animal in his care; anyone who acts as the animal’s custodian; or anyone who knowingly permits the animal to remain on any premises occupied by him or her. The broad language of the Animal Control Act opens the door for many possibilities when attempting to identify the person who may be legally responsible for the animal’s conduct.
Additionally, the Act provides that the injuries are not limited to a dog bite or actual attack. The animal only needs to be the cause of the injuries. An “attack” can then be any aggressive, or threatening behavior such as growling, or threat of biting or jumping. An animal or dog running between a person’s legs that causes them to fall can also apply under this Act. In short, the Animal Control Act covers any action, with or without physical contact, of an animal that causes bodily injury and/or psychological harm.
Although provocation is not defined under the Act, it is commonly referred to as whether the Plaintiff provoked the animal to act aggressively. The controlling factor is whether the animal’s reaction is fitting to the event, rather than the perspective of the person provoking the animal. Following that is whether the person was lawfully present and conducting himself peacefully. This Act likely does not apply to people who are trespassers, because they should not be considered lawfully present on the property. This is especially true when passers are notified by the owner though warning signs of a dog’s presence. Further, this Act does not apply when a person is in an area without permission which is considered closed to the public.