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Who is liable if a dog bites me?

Dogs are known as humankind's best friend, but sometimes a pup doesn't seem very friendly and lashes out. Dog bites can happen and result in serious injuries.

If you are bitten by a dog and incur injuries, you may be wondering how your medical bills will be paid. Who is liable?

Animal Control Act places responsibility on owner

Illinois dog bite cases are governed by the Animal Control Act, which states that the owner of an animal is liable for civil damages if their animal attacks, attempts to attack or injure any person who is peaceably conducting himself or herself in any place he or she may lawfully be.

Whether or not the owner knew the dog was "dangerous" or took measures to protect you from the animal does not matter, they will be liable regardless. Illinois is also not a "one bite free" state; in those states, an owner gets a free pass if their dog bites someone and has never done it before. 

Owner vs. keeper

Depending on your case, a keeper may be liable for damages instead of or in addition to the owner. A keeper is someone with care, custody and control of the dog, and is considered to be included under the umbrella of dog ownership.

A Minnesota court defined harboring or keeping a dog as "something more than a meal of mercy to a stray dog or the casual presence of a dog on someone's premises. Harboring means to afford lodging, to shelter or to give refuge to a dog. ... One becomes the keeper of a dog only when he either with or without the owner's permission undertakes to manage, control or care for it as dog owners in general are accustomed to do."

So for example, if you visit your cousin's house and they are sitting their friend's dog and the dog bites you, your cousin will likely be liable for damages. Your cousin's friend, in some instances, would also be liable. 

Liable only without provocation

Liability only falls on the owner under the Animal Control Act if the animal was not provoked. Examples that may immediately come to mind would be grabbing the dog's tail, hitting or kicking the dog, or in some other way acting aggressive toward the dog.

However, provocation can also be accidental and doesn't rely on your intent. That means if you accidentally step on a dog's tail and they bite you, you are considered to have provoked the dog.

If you are visiting somewhere with a dog, be sure to respect the dog's space and avoid provoking it in any way. If you are still bitten, you deserve to receive compensation for your injuries. Consult with a personal injury attorney who can help you establish liability and work with those individuals' insurance companies.

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