Who Pays After A Dog Bite In Illinois?

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Dog bites can cause serious damage. Several years back, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on dog bites, noting that one in five required emergency trips to the hospital. Many of these trips can lead to serious expenses. In addition to the medical bills, victims may suffer permanent disabilities or disfigurement. All of this begs the question: Who pays?

In Illinois, the answer is simple: The dog’s owner should pay. Generally speaking, Illinois holds dog owners strictly liable for the damages that their dogs cause. However, even though the answer may be simple, the process is rarely as simple.

Several Types Of Insurance May Apply

Even though the dog owner is technically liable, the owners themselves rarely pay the damages directly. Instead, one or more of the owner’s insurance policies may apply, such as:

  • Homeowner’s insurance
  • Renter’s insurance
  • Motor homeowner’s insurance
  • Condominium owner’s insurance
  • Commercial general liability insurance (covering stores and other businesses)

Depending on the situation, other polices might also apply. An experienced dog bite attorney will help you track down the relevant coverage and work with the insurance company to get the maximum compensation you deserve.

It's worth noting that some situations can complicate matters. For example, you could have an adult dog owner living at their parents’ house. As an adult, this owner would be liable but may not have insurance. This is one of the many examples that illustrate why you want an attorney. Your lawyer will  explore ways to impose liability on the parents and their insurer as harborers or keepers of the dog.

You May Need More Immediate Options

You may expect that the dog owner’s insurance should immediately cover your medical expenses, and we agree. However, there are several factors that make it hard for bite victims to rely upon the dog owner’s insurance – at least, at first – including the following:

  • Dog bites usually require immediate medical attention. Most animal attack victims don’t know the owner’s insurance information by the time they need treatment.
  • The dog’s owners may not have insurance, especially if they are renters rather than homeowners.
  • Even if the dog’s owners do have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, the insurance company will likely investigate the claim before it will agree to pay it. This does very little to help an injured person get the immediate medical attention they need after a dog bite.
  • When you need immediate medical attention, you don’t have time to make a claim on the dog owners’ insurance in time to make them pay for your emergency room (ER) bill. Remember, when you’re dealing with an insurance company, it will look for any reason under the sun to avoid paying. That’s how these companies make billions of dollars per year. They will take their time and leave you in the lurch.

As a result, if you have health insurance, you should use it after a dog bite so that you can get treatment quickly. There just isn’t enough time after the bite to investigate, make a claim and convince the insurance company to pay your medical bills. If you have insurance, you should use it to get the treatment you need as soon as you can.

If You Don’t Have Health Insurance

For people who do not have health insurance, the process can be more difficult, but it is still important to get treatment. If you suffer a dog bite or another animal bite and you don’t have health insurance, you’ll want to take two important steps:

  1. Get immediate medical attention. Go to the closest ER. State law requires hospitals to provide emergency treatment even if you don’t have insurance.
  2. Hire an experienced dog bite lawyer as soon after the incident as possible.

An experienced dog bite attorney can help you in at least three key ways:

  1. Attempt to negotiate a reduction of your ER bill and work with the hospital and other medical providers to get them to hold payment on your bills until after you receive a settlement
  2. Investigate and make a claim against the dog owner’s insurance policy
  3. Make sure you get any ongoing medical care you may need, even if you don’t have health insurance

In some cases, your lawyer may be able to provide even more assistance. While the dog owner’s insurance will not pay the liability claim until the end of any case, an experienced dog bite attorney can sometimes help you obtain some immediate payments under the medical payments section of the dog owner’s insurance. These payments are not based on liability (or fault). Typically, this medical payment coverage is limited, but it may be enough to pay your deductibles and reduce your out-of-pocket expenses.

Work With An Attorney Early To Strengthen Your Case

Dog bites frequently cost victims far more than their immediate medical expenses, and an experienced dog bite attorney can help you file a claim to recover the full extent of your damages. The costs vary from case to case, and you may not understand the full extent of your damages for weeks or months after the bite.

Even so, it’s important to work with a lawyer as soon as possible. This makes it easier for your attorney to get the information needed to strengthen your claim. It also means that your lawyer can help you avoid falling into some of the common traps insurance companies will set before you.

Insurance agents are primarily concerned with protecting their companies’ bottom lines, so they take steps to deny you full compensation after an animal attack. One common step is to ask you to make a recorded statement. They will then try to use whatever you say to shrink your claim. Your attorney can help you avoid this trap and others like it.

Every Situation Is Unique

Ultimately, while the dog’s owners are liable for your expenses, the answer is that the payment for a dog bite will depend on the facts of the case. To get the compensation you deserve, you need to investigate and understand your options. An experienced dog bite attorney will know where to look and can help you build your case while avoiding the mistakes that could hurt you down the road.


The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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