Illinois Dog Bite Law

A dog bite victim in Illinois can recover compensation under a special statute and the doctrines of negligence, negligence per se, scienter, and intentional tort.


The State of Illinois has a statute that makes the owner, harborer or keeper of any animal (whether or not a dog) liable for injuries to people, whether or not caused by a bite, without negligence on the part of the defendant. Although the dog bite statute uses the word “owner,” the term is defined as “any person having a right of property in an animal, or who keeps or harbors an animal, or who has it in his care, or acts as its custodian, or who knowingly permits a dog to remain on any premises occupied by him or her.” (510 ILCS 5/2.16.)

The relevant part of the Animal Control Act is as follows:

p510 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 other animal is liable in civil damages to such person for the full amount of the injury proximately caused thereby.

A dog bite victim can bring a claim against a dog owner based upon the foregoing statute. Additionally, a victim can reach owners and other potential defendants, such as the custodian of the dog, on the ground of negligence or negligence per se.

Click here to read the Illinois statutes, entitled be “Animal Control Act.” Click here to download the official jury instruction and its annotations, which provide an excellent, comprehensive brief of the elements of the cause of action, as well as the defenses to it.


In a negligence action, the plaintiff must provide sufficient facts showing the existence of a duty owed by the defendant, a breach of that duty, and an injury proximately resulting from the breach. Vesey v. Chicago Housing Authority, 145 Ill.2d 404, 411, 164 Ill.Dec. 622, 583 N.E.2d 538 (1991). Negligence may consist of doing something unreasonable or unreasonably failing to do something, such as warn. It also may consist of violating a a statute or ordinance which, if followed, would have prevented the accident; this is referred to as negligence per se. (Mangan v. FC Pilgrim & Co., 336 NE 2d 374, 572 (1975).) Examples of negligence are legion; see Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA for details.

Landlord liability

In Illinois a dog bite victim can hold a residential property owner and its agents liable for a dog attack if it occurs in a common area, not a part of the premises that has been rented or leased. “[A] landlord owes no duty to a tenant’s invitee to prevent injuries proximately caused by an animal kept by the tenant on the leased premises if the landlord does not retain control over the area where the injury occurred.” (See Mangan v. FC Pilgrim & Co., 336 NE 2d 374 (1975) [landlord liable for tenant’s injury when she fell because of the sudden appearance of a mouse in the rented apartment; held that the landlord owed the plaintiff a duty to keep those portions of the premises over which it retained control in a reasonably safe condition to prevent injury to people who were lawfully present on the premises. Also see Klitzka ex rel. Teutonico v. Hellios (2004) 810 NE 2d 252, 259.)

Emotional distress

Damages for mental pain and suffering may be a proper element of damages, as long as these psychic injuries are connected with a physical injury. Martino v. Family Service, 112 Ill. App. 3d 593, 445 N.E.2d 6 (1982). Generally, mental pain and suffering alone is insufficient to allow for the recovery of damage. However, under the ‘zone of danger’ doctrine, a person who is in a zone of physical danger, and because of this has a fear for their own safety, has a right of action for physical injury relating to emotional distress. Illinois courts have also ruled that there may be damages awarded for mental pain and distress without physical contact or injury to the person. Allen v. Otis, 206 Ill. App. 3d 173, 563 N.E.2d 826, appeal denied, 141 Ill. 2d 535, 580 N.E.2d 107 (1990).

See Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA for an overview of other available causes of action.