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Woof! Woof! Illinois Appellate Court Issues Two Opinions Regarding Claimed Liability for Dog Bites

By David B. Collins

In Hayes v. Adams, Tina Adams took her Lhasa Apso, Gucci, to a veterinary clinic for a surgical procedural.  After Adams left the clinic, a clinic employee took Gucci out for a walk.  Gucci got loose and ran away.  The employee chased Gucci to an area where an eight year-old girl was waiting for a school bus.  When the employee yelled for help in catching Gucci, the girl tried to help, but Gucci bit her, causing personal injuries.

A Suit was filed on behalf of the girl premised on the Animal Control Act, and naming the dog owner, the veterinarian and the clinic as defendants.  The owner moved for summary judgment claiming that she did not have care or dominion over Gucci at the time of the injury.  The Illinois Appellate Court agreed and affirmed summary judgment for the dog owner who was not present or in control of the dog at the time of the occurrence.   The court noted that holding the dog owner liable for acts of her dog committed when the owner was not in control or possession of the dog would do nothing more than impose liability as a pure penalty for dog ownership.

In Solorio v. Rodriguez, a young boy was bitten several times by a pit bull while sitting on the front steps of his home.  The dog was owned by the boy’s neighbor, the defendant Rodriguez.  While a lawsuit was brought against the dog owner, the plaintiff also added the dog owner’s landlord as a defendant under two different theories: private nuisance and negligence.

In the private nuisance theory, plaintiffs alleged that defendants “unreasonably interfered” with plaintiffs’ use and enjoyment of their property “by allowing a vicious dog to be harbored at the Premises with a broken fence gate that was unable to  contain the dog.”  Plaintiffs further alleged that defendants had “substantially and unreasonably invaded” plaintiffs’ property by allowing the dog to escape the Premises.  Under the negligence theory, plaintiffs alleged that the landlord knew Rodriguez was keeping a “vicious and dangerous dog” on the premises because he knew the dog was “tearing up the basement” and that the landlord was negligent for failing to maintain the gate through which the dog escaped. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of both theories.

The plaintiffs’ argument was that a single incident of the dog escaping from the Premises due to a broken gate was insufficient to constitute a private nuisance.  An isolated event of the dog escaping from a neighboring basement did not, as a matter of law, amount to a substantial, unreasonable invasion of plaintiffs’ land, i.e. a public nuisance.

As for the negligence claim, the Court found that plaintiffs were unable to offer any evidence of a specific occurrence in which the dog bit or growled at a child before the incident, thereby putting the landlord on notice of a dangerous nature of the pit bull.  The Court also found that the incident occurred on property owned by another person, occupied by plaintiffs, but that there was no suggestion that landlord somehow controlled the neighboring property.  Based on the record before the court, it concluded that plaintiffs could not show that defendants owed plaintiffs a duty of care, and concluded that the negligence claim was also properly dismissed.

Originally published in the Spring 2013 edition of Quinn Quarterly.