Dog Bite Law: Runners Beware of Stray Dogs

A number of people enjoy a nice run or a relaxing bike ride. My husband is a marathon runner, and up until recently, I had not really considered any of the potential dangers of running, walking, or cycling. My husband runs up to 100 miles a week, all year round in the Chicago area. Accessories for long runs can include: a headlamp, a CamelBak, bright clothing, a heart rate monitor, and more. Recently, my husband was chased by a stray or loose dog, and fortunately he made it home safely. But what happens if a person is out running, biking, or walking and is attacked by a dog?

Illinois Dog Bite Law falls under the Illinois Animal Control Act. The Illinois Animal Control Act, states in pertinent part: 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. 510 ILCS 5/16 (Illinois Compiled Statutes (2011 Edition)).

Based on a reading of the statute, we know that the owner of the animal will be liable for damages. However, what happens if you are bitten by a stray dog? In Cieslewicz v. Forest Pres. Dist. of Cook County., 2012 IL App (1st) 100801 (Ill. App., 2012), the Illinois Appellate Court was faced with this very issue. In January of 2003, two women, in separate incidents, were attacked by stray dogs within the Cook County Forest Preserve. One woman was killed, and the other woman was severely injured by the attack. The Plaintiffs argued that the Cook County Forest Preserve was the “owner” of the animals under the statute. The statute defines an “owner” as,

“[A]ny person having a right of property in a dog or other animal, or who keeps or harbors a dog or other animal, or who has it in his care, or acts as its custodian, or who knowingly permits a dog or other domestic animal to remain on any premises occupied by him.” 510 ILCS 5/2.16 (Illinois Compiled Statutes (2011 Edition)).

The Illinois Appellate Court found that the evidence failed to establish that the Defendants “knowingly permitted” the animals to remain on the premises. The Plaintiffs failed to show any care, custody, or control demonstrated by the Defendants. The evidence showed that the Defendants were actively patrolling the premises in an effort to remove the animals. Thus, the Defendants were not considered owners under the statute, and were not held liable for the injuries/death that the animals caused.

It is important for runners, walkers, cyclists to be very careful, and beware of stray dogs.

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