Illinois Supreme Court Concludes Animal Control Act Does Not Apply in Motorcycle Crash Case Involving Loose Dog

In Coe v. Lewsader, the plaintiffs brought an action against the defendants, pursuant to the Animal Control Act. During the course of the litigation, the trial court certified four questions to the Illinois Supreme Court. This mechanism allows a lower court to obtain the guidance of the state’s highest court during the litigation. The Illinois Supreme Court provided an answer to one of the questions but declined to answer the other three.

The background of the lawsuit is as follows. In January 2012, the plaintiffs filed a complaint against the defendants, including a claim for loss of consortium, for injuries that one of the plaintiffs sustained on September 26, 2009. Half of the claims sought damages based on negligence, while the other half asserted claims based on the Animal Control Act. According to the plaintiffs, on the morning of the incident, the plaintiff was riding his motorcycle when he struck the defendants’ dog in the middle of the road.

The defendants rejected these allegations, claiming that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent because he was operating his motorcycle at an excessive speed, and he was intoxicated at the time of the crash. The plaintiffs then dismissed their negligence-based causes of action. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The parties then jointly filed four certified questions. As part of the certification, they agreed that the plaintiff was intoxicated at the time of the crash and that he was operating his motorcycle at 90 miles per hour when it collided with the dog. They also agreed that the dog was lying passively in the road.

The Illinois Supreme Court addressed the parties’ second question first, finding it dispositive. This question asked, “Does a dog lying in the middle of the road constitute an ‘overt action’ toward the Plaintiff for the purposes of the [Act]?” The relevant portion of the 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.”

The Illinois Supreme Court referred to numerous other cases interpreting the Act to conclude that “some overt act of the dog toward the plaintiff is required” and that “[s]imply being ‘an inert or passive force as far as it concerns the injuries of the plaintiff’ is not sufficient.” Since the parties stipulated that the dog was lying passively in the road at the time of the crash, the dog’s behavior did not constitute an overt act toward the plaintiff for the purposes of the Act. Since the court concluded that the Act does not apply to this action, it declined to answer the remaining three certified questions and remanded the action for further proceedings.

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