For most dog owners, our furry friends are important members of our families. A dog owner’s worst nightmare, however, is if or when their dog gets into a violent encounter with a person. Worse than that, however, is being on the other end of a Chicago dog bite attack. When a dog attacks, the injured party can pursue a claim against the animal’s owner.
In a recent opinion, a plaintiff sued seeking recovery for injuries she sustained after the defendants’ dog bit her. According to the court’s opinion, while the defendants were out of town, a friend kept an eye on their dog and invited the plaintiff and others to the defendants’ home. The defendants gave their friend instructions to care for their dog, and their friend had watched the dog on several occasions in the past. Before the incident, the dog had never bitten anyone or exhibited aggressive behavior and did not typically jump on visitors. The defendants testified that the dog would often growl at strangers from the window or car, or would bark at other dogs, and once got into a fight with another dog at the park. In addition, the defendants had owned the dog for seven years and did not generally keep the dog away from guests. The lower court ruled in favor of the defendants, and the plaintiff appealed.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the lower court erred in ruling in favor of the defendants because they knew or had reason to know about the dog’s aggressive propensities. The court disagreed, reasoning that fights between dogs are not indicative of attacks on humans and that there was no case law indicating that an owner of a dog that growls at people is on notice that the dog poses a threat to humans. In addition, the court held that owners were not in a position to control the dog or prevent injury because they were out of town, so they could not be held liable. Because the defendants had relinquished care to their friend to watch the dog, they had no reason to believe their dog would be a danger to the friend’s guests. Thus, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision and ruled in favor of the defendants.