Visitor Question

Question of liability after friend’s dog bit my child’s neck?

Submitted By: Mama (Chicago, Illinois)

Last month, my 6-year-old was bit on the neck by a dog,”M”, which belongs to my sister’s friend, while we were visiting Illinois. My sister’s friend owns a horse farm and has other animals, including 3 big dogs. Two of the dogs were friendly to my son but this one was not.

While my sister’s friend was outside tending to her horses, my sister (who was already a guest at her house and had stayed the previous night) let us in the house. “M” growled at my son as soon as we entered.

My sister and I told him to stay away from “M”, and not to pet him. My son loves animals, and he started playing fetch with the two friendly dogs. While my son was playing, one of the friendly dogs knocked him over and he fell on “M”s paw, who then bit him on the neck.

My sister and I rushed him to the ER. Thankfully, he only needed two stitches for a puncture wound (the other cuts just needed to be cleaned up). When my sister called the dog owner to tell her what happened, she was shocked and upset and said, “What!? Why didn’t you tell me you were going inside? I would have locked the dogs up.”

Needless to say, I never heard from the dog owner after that. An animal bite report was filed at the hospital, and the dog was quarantined for 10 days. At the time, my health insurance paid the claim, minus my copay, and I paid the copay for my son’s antibiotics. Then I took him to his primary care doctor for two follow up appointments.

After a few weeks, I sent a polite letter to the dog owner asking for reimbursement for my out-of-pocket expenses ($220). Three weeks went by – still no word from her. Then I received a claim inquiry form from my health insurance, asking for more information to determine possible third party liability.

I filled out the inquiry online, and sent the dog owner a polite text message stating that my insurance company may be contacting her for more info, and asking her if she received my letter. She said, “We are currently in discussions with our lawyer before proceeding,” and that the lawyer would be in touch with me, if necessary.

I was quite upset by this response, and by that fact that not once did she ever reach out to me and ask if my son was OK, or apologize for what happened. As I understand, Illinois is a strict liability state when it comes to dog bites.

Do I have grounds for a lawsuit? Or does the fact that the dog owner was outside and it was my sister who let us in her house complicate matters?

To make things worse, my sister is taking her friend’s side, and she defends the dog and calls me “negligent” for the accident (because I was sitting in the next room when it happened). Our relationship is now strained. I am afraid that if I retain a lawyer, it will damage my relationship with my sister even further. But I’m so upset. And my son still has nightmares.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.

Answer

Dear Mama,

When it comes to dog bites, the State of Illinois is a “Strict Liability” State.

Strict liability means Illinois dog owners will be held responsible for all injuries (caused by a dog), even if the injury was not caused by a bite from the dog, unless there is a showing of provocation or trespass by the third party claimant.  A third party can be an adult or a child.

More specifically, Illinois Compiled Statues Section 510 ILCS 5/16 states in part:

“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.”

Based on the facts there appears to have been no provocation. If that is true, then the dog owner is strictly liable for the damages sustained by your child.

In dog bite injury claims, damages can include the costs associated with medical treatment, out-of-pocket expenses (for medications, bandages, costs of travel to treatment, etc.), your lost wages (if you had to take time off from work to take care of your child), and an additional amount for your child’s pain and suffering.

If the dog owner continues to fail to cooperate, you have a several options:

First: File a small claims lawsuit. You can do so without an attorney. In the State of Illinois, Small Claims Courts have jurisdiction to hear cases up to $10,000.

Second: Seek the counsel of a personal injury attorney. Most injury attorneys do not charge for initial office consultations, and the attorney will only receive a fee if he or she prevails in settling the case, or after winning a successful court verdict. If the attorney does not prevail, then you owe nothing. This is known as a Contingency Agreement.

You should definitely consult with an attorney, regardless of whether you decide to retain one or not. Your child’s injury has the potential for scarring, which can greatly increase potential compensation.

Third: Move on and let the issue pass. You can be confident if you file a lawsuit, or an attorney does for you, it will be ultimately stressful. The lawsuit may include the need to take depositions, to produce medical documents, the retention of a physician to testify as to the bite and treatment it required, taking time off from work, and more.

Learn more here: Filing Lawsuits for Child Dog Attacks

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here , or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck with your claim,

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