Holy Shih Tzu! My Neighbor's Dog Bit Me, What Now?
Americans love dogs. But news of vicious dog attacks appear in the news on a daily basis. According to the Center for Disease Control, an estimated 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year.
If you or your children have been attacked or injured by a dog, you need to know your rights and all of your options. The Illinois legislature has passed several measures to protect the general public from just such attacks, but understanding your rights can be complicated and attempting to navigate those rights on your own can prove to be impossible or at best damaging to the scope of your possible recovery.
Glimpse of the law:
The Illinois Animal Control Act makes it clear that; “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 she or he may lawfully be, the owner of such dog or other animal is liable in civil damages. . .”
The old law in Illinois used to essentially give each dog "one free bite," with the idea in mind that the owner couldn't know that their dog would bite until they have bitten someone the first time - then they were on notice that their dog is dangerous. That is no longer the law - if a dog attacks someone without being provoked, there is a very good chance the owner is responsible for the victim's medical bills, disfigurement, pain and suffering, loss of a normal life, lost wages, and/or mental distress.
Steps you should take:
Your health and safety are paramount. Call for help, whether that is 911, 311 or local animal control.
Properly care for your injury. Go to the emergency room or your primary care doctor immediately. Be sure to give your doctor a detailed and accurate health history. It is very common for a dog bite wound to become infected – doctors and hospitals will usually prescribe a prophylactic course of antibiotics which can help prevent an infected bite. Even a small wound that doesn't seem serious can become very serious, even life-threatening, if it becomes infected which is why it is so important to see a doctor right away. Don't be surprised if your doctor doesn't want to use stitches to close your wound - stitching a dog bite wound increases the risk of infection so stitches are typcially used only when absolutely necessary.
After reaching safety, document the injury. Call the police and report the dog attack. Take photos of the injury as soon as possible after the attack. Take pictures of the dog that bit you, the house it came from, or the license plate of the dog owner's car. Find the dog owner. Ask for copies of their dog's vaccination history. Make sure to get as much contact information from the dog owner as possible, ideally a photo or copy of their drivers' license. The police will gather most of this information when they arrive, but do your best to document what you can if you are able.
Contact an attorney to understand your rights and responsibilities after an accident. We will conduct a thorough investigation, identify any insurance policies that would cover your injuries (typically homeowner's insurance), research the dog's and the dog owner's history, and obtain the reports from animal control and the police department related to your bite.
You should know that there are defenses that the dog owner's insurance company will often try to use to avoid liability. They might claim you provoked the dog, you were somewhere you weren't supposed to be, or that the insurance policy doesn't cover the bite for some reason or another. In some cases their defense might be valid, but many times the insurance company is taking a position to see if you will go away without a fight. Our attorneys can review the insurance policy at issue to ensure you aren't giving up a viable avenue of recovery.
Don't give a statement to the insurance company without at least speaking to an attorney first – our consultations are free, so you have nothing to lose.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a dog attack – contact the experienced injury team at Marker & Crannell for a free consultation and case assessment.