Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dogs And Bicycles May Not Mix

Who knows what goes on inside a dog's brain most of the time.  However, I am reasonably certain of what that mush of canine gray matter says to the mound of fur, teeth and muscle that surrounds it when the eyes and nose sense something the dog wants:  GET IT!  Sometimes what the dog wants is a metal and rubber contraption zipping by with a lump of human meat planted on top of it.  Whether by an actual bite or a crash caused by giving chase, dogs can and do cause serious injuries to bicyclists.  In Illinois the owner of a dog, or any other animal, may be held liable for injuries it causes.  In many instances it is not necessary to prove that the owner of the dog was in any way negligent to recover money damages.

Illinois' Animal Control Act states:

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 5/15.

In plain language if you are injured by a dog or because of a dog, e.g. because you were chased, you may receive compensation from the dog's owner so long as you did not provoke the dog and you were peaceably riding in a place you were permitted to be.  Under those circumstances it is not necessary to demonstrate that the owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous or a had a propensity to bite or chase bicyclists.  It is enough to simply be injured by a dog to take advantage of the protections provided by our state's Animal Control Act.

Of course, the goal when out riding is not to come away with a viable lawsuit, but rather to enjoy the ride; to get from point to point safely, hopefully avoiding being attacked by an animal.   Here are some ways to avoid being attacked by a dog to begin with:

  • Be aware of your surroundings.  Look around you periodically and do not ride with headphones.  This may help you become aware of a dog who may give chase with enough lead time to up your pace and get away quicker and easier.
  • Know your route.  When possible pick a route you know is free of dogs and other animals that may tend to roam free.  Also, when out mountain biking in a rural area stay on public use paths and try to avoid crossing onto private property that may harbor a territorial canine. 
  • Ride in a group.  A dog may be less inclined to chase a group of riders.  Besides in a group you don't need to be faster than the dog.  You just need to be faster than the slowest rider.
If you are attacked by a dog and are injured you should take the same sorts of measures you would in any other kind of bicycle crash case to protect yourself and your rights.  You should do the following:
  • First, get yourself out of danger.  Try to get away from the animal to avoid further injury.  If you have a water bottle with you try squirting the dog to get it to leave you alone.
  • Call for help.  One of the most important pieces of safety equipment to can have with you on a ride is a mobile phone.  Use it to call 911.
  • Take photos.  While you have your phone out, use its camera to photograph the dog, so it can be identified later, and your surroundings.  If possible, also photograph your bike and your injuries.
  • When the police arrive make sure they fill out an accident report.  Don't let the police talk you out of doing so.  You always want a police report.  Make the responding officer aware of any possible witnesses to the incident.
  • Contact a lawyer to discuss the possibility of bringing a case against the dog's owner.

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