New Illinois Law Holds Reckless Dog Owners Liable

According to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) and State Farm, the largest writer of homeowners’ insurance in the United States, dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for nearly one third of all homeowners’ liability claim dollars paid out in 2018, costing $675 million. The State of Illinois topped the list at #2 for the most State Farm dog bite claims in 2018 with 288 claims, costing $10.3 million.

Illinois has enacted laws designed to protect the rights of those who have suffered an injury due to an animal attack. The Illinois Animal Control Act provides a civil remedy for dog bite victims and all other injuries caused by an individual’s pet or farm animal. For more information about the Animal Control Act, visit our previous blog HERE.  As of 2019, Illinois lawmakers have created a new provision within the Animal Control Act regarding “reckless dog owners,” also known as the “Justice for Buddy Act.” The new law, which took effect on January 1, 2019, aims to protect individuals and companion animals from dangerous dogs and their negligent owners.

The legislation was born out of a 2017 attack in Hanover Park, Illinois where a 10-year old Yorkie named Buddy was killed by a neighbor’s dog. The neighbor had disregarded guidelines saying that their dogs needed to be muzzled while walking. The dogs were found running at large within a week of killing Buddy.

A person can now be considered a “reckless dog owner” if they own a dog that kills another dog, while running at large and without justification, resulting in the dog being deemed “dangerous” under the Animal Control Act. In order to be categorized as a “reckless dog owner”, the owner must also knowingly allow the dog to run at large on two (2) occasions within twelve (12) months of the incident or the dog must have been involved in an incident that resulted in the dog being deemed dangerous within twenty-four (24) months of the incident.

If someone is found to be a “reckless dog owner”, the court may order that all dogs in the owner’s possession be immediately forfeited. In some serious cases, the court could also prohibit the owner from owning another dog for at least twelve (12) months, but no more than three (3) years, for a first offense. If the “reckless dog owner” refuses to forfeit their dog, the court may impose a $500 fine per dog, per day. All fines are donated to the Pet Population Control Fund which is dedicated to preventing pet overpopulation through spay and neuter programs.

If a dog is forfeited by a person found to be a reckless dog owner, the dog’s temperament will be independently evaluated in order to determine whether the dog will be placed for adoption, transferred to a rescue or placed in a sanctuary. However, the new provision emphasizes that a forfeited dog’s history while living with the reckless dog owner will not be considered conclusive evidence of the dog’s temperament.

Dog bites are a serious matter, and the homeowner’s insurance carriers of those who choose to own dogs may be responsible to pay for the damages caused by a harmful animal. If you have been injured as a result of a dog attack, you should take immediate action in order to protect your legal rights. Contact the knowledgeable dog bite attorneys at John J. Malm & Associates to learn how you may be entitled to receive compensation for your injuries.

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