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socrateaser, Lawyer
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 38910
Experience:  Retired (mostly)
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My dog was in my front yard in an Illinois suburb. A walker

Customer Question

My dog was in my front yard in an Illinois suburb. A walker walked on the sidewalk and my dog ran towards him but did not leave my driveway. The walker was startled and tripped over his feet on the sidewalk. I helped the walker up, apologized for my dog startling him, asked if he needed any help, if he was ok, and if he needed me to call anyone. He said "no, I don't tolerate dogs." About 15 minutes later the walker's daughter came over, told me the walker had shortness of breath and she was taking him to the doctor to be checked out and that she would be contacting me later. What am I liable for? My dog did not leave my yard and did not make physical contact with the walker.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  socrateaser replied 2 years ago.
Hello, There are two legal theories on which the walker could rely: 1. Civil Assault. A person who believes that he or she may suffer an intentional imminent harmful or offensive touching by another, has a claim for civil assault. Civil assault is not the same as criminal assault, because no actual physical contact is necessary for a civil assault. All that is necessary is that the plaintiff "apprehend" that an intentional harmful or offensive touching is imminent. In the case of an animal, since the animal is your responsibility, you are similarly responsible for the animal's actions. However, without "intent" to "touch," there is no civil assault. And, based on your facts, there was no intent, so you are not liable for civil assault. 2. Negligence. Negligence requires that the defendant's failure to exercise due care causes a physical injury to another and results in damages. Here, the dog is your responsibility, the dog startled the walker, the walker fell, and presumably was injured as a result. Generally, negligence requires a physical impact, such as a vehicle collision. However, the walker's falling is a physical impact with the ground, which will satisfy the legal requirements. So, you are liable for negligence, unless you can show that your dog reacted to something that the walker was doing (e.g., walking another dog -- and by doing so, assuming the risk that other dogs might become annoyed and bark). Also, there is the issue of damages. From what you describe, the most that the walker could claim as damages is the cost of a doctor's visit. Obviously, if the visit is to an Emergency Room, then the costs could be pretty high. But, beyond that, I don't see any damages. Even if the walker were to suffer a heart attack, it would be practically impossible to show that your dog's barking caused the heart attach, because startling someone doesn't cause a heart attack. Heart attacks are caused by insufficient oxygen to the heart muscle, usually from a blocked coronary artery -- which develops over many years. In conclusion, I wouldn't worry about it, because there's nothing to do at this point. A personal injury attorney isn't going to take this case, because there isn't any money in it. So, the walker might sue you in small claims court, but most people don't sue, and I don't see a small claims court judge awarding damages based on what you've described. I hope I've answered your question. Please let me know if you require further clarification. And, please provide a positive feedback rating for my answer -- otherwise, I receive nothing for my efforts in your behalf.Thanks again for using!