What is Vicious Propensity?

Dog Bites | March 16, 2021

What is Vicious Propensity?

Dogs have very powerful jaws that can inflict significant injuries on the human body. While most people do not think about the potential risks of being around dogs, the reality is that dog bite incidents occur more often than most people realize. In some areas around the country, a dog owner will be held liable if their pet bites somebody and has what is known as a “vicious propensity.”

In other areas around the country, a dog owner will be held liable for any bite injuries, regardless of whether or not a dog is known to be dangerous. Here, our skilled team of Chicago dog bite lawyers want to discuss what “vicious propensity” means as well as how this can affect a dog bite claim in Chicago.

Defining Vicious Propensity

Defining “vicious propensity” concerning a dog is not terribly difficult. In general, when vicious propensity is written into state or municipal laws, this tends to mean that the dog has previously been known to be vicious or have violent tendencies towards other dogs or people.

In other words, if a dog has been reported to police officers or animal control officers after biting somebody or aggressively pursuing another person or animal, then that particular jurisdiction may label the dog as having a propensity for violence (i.e. a vicious propensity).

When vicious propensity definitions are included in animal control laws, this typically means that the area follows some type of “one-bite rule” when it comes to determining the liability of dog owners after a dog bite or attack incident. In jurisdictions that follow a one-bite rule, this typically means that the dog owner will only be held liable if the dog has bitten anybody before or shown a tendency to be aggressive.

Interestingly, Illinois does not follow a one-bite rule when it comes to dog bite incidents and owner liability.

Is Illinois a Strict Liability Dog Bite State?

When we turn to Illinois law concerning dog bites (510 ILCS 5/16), we can see that Illinois operates under a “strict liability” dog bite system when it comes to determining the liability of dog owners after a bite occurs. Under this strict liability statute, this means that a dog’s owner will be held liable regardless of whether or not they were negligent in connection with the bite incident. The dog owner can be held liable regardless of whether or not the dog has ever bitten anybody before or shown a propensity for aggression.

A dog owner will be held liable for any injuries caused by their pet and could be on the line for an injured person’s medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering damages, scarring and disfigurement damages, and more.

We also want to point out that the law in Illinois surrounding strict liability and dogs is more stringent than in other places in the US. In some areas, an owner will only be held liable for injuries caused by an actual bite. However, in Illinois, the dog’s owner can be held liable for other kinds of injuries caused by the dog. For example, if a dog rushes at somebody and causes them to fall down and break an arm, the dog’s owner will be held liable for this injury as well, even if no bite occurred.