COVID-19 UPDATE from Bellas & Wachowski

Dog Bite Awareness Week

Published on April 13th, 2020

Animal shelters across the country are empty due to the pandemic’s massive stay at home order. Sheltering at home provides the perfect opportunity to adopt or foster a dog. But, it also creates new concerns for owners and foster parents to make sure they understand their new responsibilities for protecting others from dog bites injuries. 

National Dog Bite Prevention Week ® takes place during the second full week of April with the purpose of educating people about preventing dog bites. According to a study from the Center For Disease Control (CDC), approximately 4.7 million dog bites occur in the United States each year and 800,000 of those bites result in medical care. Those most susceptible to a dog bite are the very young children and the very old.  

Why Dogs Get Aggressive

Dogs can be our best friend and a wonderful companion but they are also strong, smart and loyal to a fault. Based on the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) dogs may become aggressive and dangerous due to one or several of the following reasons:

  • They could be stressed and believe someone is invading their space or territory.
  • They may be scared or threatened.
  • To protect themselves, their puppies or their owners.
  • They’re not feeling well or if they’re startled.
  • They may nip or bite during play (which is why rough play should be avoided to ensure you don’t overly excite your animal).

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also examined why dogs attack. The ASPCA identified factors such as:

  • Heredity
  • Early experience
  • Lack of socialization
  • Inadequate training and supervision
  • Sex and reproductive status

Dog Bite Injuries and Infections 

A dog bite can lead to severe injuries that often require extensive medical treatment. A study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that, during one recent year, dog bites accounted for 316,200 emergency department visits and 9,500 hospital stays. According to the AHRQ, the most common injuries for dog bite victims (based on the number of hospital stays) were:

Infections and disease are also serious concerns when a dog attacks. The CDC reports that dog bite victims should be especially concerned about the following:

  • Rabies: If the dog is infected with the rabies virus, the dog can spread the disease through its saliva. A victim needs immediate treatment, which typically consists of a series of shots. If untreated, the illness is usually fatal.
  • Capnocytophaga Bacteria: A human being, especially those with weakened immune systems, can easily become ill if this bacteria is spread from the dog’s mouth. An infection can lead to sepsis and related complications, including organ damage and dangerously low blood pressure.
  • Pasteurella: More than half of all dog bites cause victims to be infected with this type of bacteria, which can trigger swelling in the glands and joints and make movement difficult.
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA): Staph infection of this type is highly common in dog bite victims. An infection can spread to the bloodstream and lungs and become life-threatening.
  • Tetanus: A type of bacterial infection that can cause a victim to suffer painful muscle spasms. It often results from deep bite wounds. The worst cases can result in paralysis or death.

Cook County Pet Laws

According to Cook County Pet Laws, owners of dogs must abide by the following:

  • Rabies Vaccination: Dogs 6 months or older must be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian.
  • Dog Licenses: Dogs 6 months or older must have a license. 
  • Dog Leash: By law, the owner of a dog must leash the pet. No leash can result in a fine of $300
    • Prevents dogs from straying and getting lost.
    • Protects dogs from darting into traffic to chase something exciting or run from something scary.
    • Protects dogs from unseen/unknown hazards, such as things that cut, sting, bite, or cause illness.
    • Protects dogs from startling unsuspecting pedestrians, cyclists or chasing/scaring other animals into traffic or harm’s way.
    • Reduces the chance that another person or another dog will be bitten. Whether a dog is startled, frightened, protecting, guarding or involved in other territorial activities, a dog has the potential to bite.
    • Makes it easier to clean up after your dog and prevents your dog from eliminating in protected areas, where children play, or others walk.
  • Waste Removal: Owners are responsible for picking up their pet’s waste. Not doing so can garner a fine up to $500:
    • Waste does not disintegrate quickly and can run off into the water system.
    • Dogs can spread diseases to each other through their feces and can attract rodents. Dog feces can carry zoonotic disease, which can infect humans. Potential pathogens may include:
      • Salmonella: May cause upset stomach or more severe problems
      • Roundworm: Potentially causes a mild rash to more serious disease to the lungs, liver, or even blindness.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 10,000 cases of roundworm infection annually
      • Hookworm: A parasite that can be picked up by individuals that walk barefoot in contaminated areas
      • Campylobacteriosis:  A bacterial infection that can cause diarrhea in humans.
      • Giardiasis: A diarrheal illness caused by a one-celled, microscopic parasite. Once an animal or person has been infected, the parasite lives in the intestine and is passed in the stool and due to its exterior shell, it can survive outside the body and in the environment for long periods of time.
  • Dogs in Cars: No owner or person shall confine any animal in a motor vehicle in such a manner that places it in a life or health-threatening situation by exposure to a prolonged period of extreme heat or cold, without proper ventilation or other protection from such heat or cold. In order to protect the health and safety of an animal, an animal control officer, law enforcement officer, or Department of Agriculture investigator who has probable cause to believe that this Section is being violated shall have authority to enter such motor vehicle by any reasonable means under the circumstances after making a reasonable effort to locate the owner or person.
  • Dogs at Outdoor Cafes: Dog owners who dine outdoors are permitted to bring their pet with them to restaurants that are licensed appropriately.  Restaurants wishing to participate must apply for a city-issued permit and are required to post a sign in a visible location stating that dogs are allowed in the outdoor dining area. Customers must have the dog’s vaccination tags or proof of vaccinations. Dogs are not allowed on the table, countertop or similar surface, and employees may not touch the dog for sanitary reasons. Remember to feed your dog before you go to dine as food cannot be provided to your pet while in the outdoor dining area. In addition, your dog must be on a leash and on its best behavior. 

Illinois Dog Bite Law

Dog bite claims in Illinois are controlled by a “strict liability” dog bite law, 510 ILCS 5/16. Under the statute: “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 another animal is liable in civil damages to such person for the full amount of the injury proximately caused thereby.”

In essence, in order to establish your right to recover damages, you do not need to show that the person in control knew or had reason to know the dog could bite but instead, you must prove the following three elements:

  1. The dog attacked, attempted to attack or otherwise injured you.
  2. You had a lawful right to be in the place where the incident occurred.
  3. You did not provoke the dog.

Liability can attach to the owner of the dog or the person who was actually in control of the dog at the time of the attack (e.g. dog walker, foster parent and even with a neighbor who assumed temporary control for the pet). Generally under Illinois law, you have two years from the date of a dog bite in which to file a claim.

A dog owner may be liable in a civil lawsuit for a bite or another kind of injury caused by the animal if one (or more) of the following is true:

How Insurance Helps With Dog Bites

Many of us wonder why insurance companies want to know if there’s a dog on the premise before providing homeowners insurance. Homeowner and renter policies typically cover dog bite liability and it can be very costly. Policy liability covers legal expenses, up to the liability limits (typically $100,000 to $300,000). If the claim exceeds the limit, the dog owner is responsible for all damages above that amount. Based on the table below, in Illinois, the average cost per dog bite claim was almost $50,000 in 2019. Never be reluctant to sue a friend, neighbor or relative for a dog bite, especially knowing your claim can be fully or partially covered by a homeowner or renter policy. The amount of coverage will depend on the degree of the injury and whether it includes things such as plastic surgery and lost wages. 

Insurance Information Institute: 2019 Top 10 States By Estimated Number and Cost of Dog Bite Claims

How To Prevent A Dog Bite

Even though the dog never displayed any aggressive attitudes and the potential victim did not provoke the animal to attack, it can happen without rationale. And, dogs attacking happen more often than not and that’s why it’s important for everyone to be on guard whenever an animal is present.  Below are a few things you can do proactively to make sure you don’t trigger an attack: 

  • Don’t approach an unfamiliar animal.
  • If a dog approaches – remain motionless. Do not run or scream. Avoid direct eye contact.
  • Don’t disturb a dog while they’re eating, sleeping, or taking care of their puppies.
  • Allow a dog to smell you before petting it. Always scratch the animal under the chin, not on the head.
  • Report strays or dogs displaying strange behavior to your local animal control.
  • If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and remain motionless. Be sure to cover your ears and neck with your hands and arms. Avoid eye contact and remain calm.
  • Don’t encourage any dog to play aggressively.

What You Should Do If Attacked by a Dog

Most dogs are friendly, loving members of the family, but even normally docile dogs may bite when they are frightened, injured or when protecting their puppies, owners or food. If you or a loved one suffered a dog bite or other injuries due to a dog attack, you should take the following steps in order to protect your health and your legal rights:

  • Immediately clean and disinfect bite wounds. 
  • Get medical attention. 
  • Report the incident to your local animal control office or the police department (especially if you have no idea whether the dog has a current rabies vaccination).
  • Get the name and contact information of the dog’s owner or the person who was in control of the dog at the time of the attack. 
  • Get names and contact information of anyone who witnessed the incident (witnesses are not legally required to provide their personal information but it’s always beneficial for your case if you do have a witness or two).
  • Take photos of your injuries.
  • Keep and do not wash any clothes you were wearing when the attack happened.
  • Retain copies of all medical bills and receipts regarding dog bite-related expenses you incur. 
  • As soon as possible, document what happened regarding the dog bite incident including anything before, during and after the event.

Talk to a personal injury attorney without delay to learn more about your legal rights and options.

The dog bite lawyers Bellas & Wachowski are available to provide immediate legal assistance if you or a family member has been bitten or attacked by a dog in Chicago, Cook County or elsewhere in Illinois.

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