Dog bite injuries accounted for about one-third of homeowner liability insurance claims paid out in 2012 - costing over $489 million - according to a report released by the Insurance Information Institute (III) in December.

While dog bite lawsuits don’t account for that percentage of cases filed in local courts, they are routinely filed.

One of the latest such cases filed in Madison County pits the plaintiff against her grandmother and uncle.

Christie Helminger filed suit against Maria Tidwell and Edward Tidwell on March 18 in Madison County Circuit Court.

Helminger claims she was lawfully on the property of Maria Tidwell at 1338 1st St. in Cottage Hills on March 22, 2012, whereupon opening the garage door a dog charged her, biting her on the calves and causing a permanent scar.

She claims the dog, whose breed was not identified in the suit, was not in the garage during previous visits.

Represented by Joseph R. Reames of Wood River, Helminger is seeking in excess of $50,000 in damages. She claims her grandmother and uncle were in violation of the Animal Control Act which in relevant part provides:

“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 for civil damages to such person for the full amount of the injury proximately caused thereby.”

Helminger claims she endured pain, suffering, mental anguish, loss of normal life, disfigurement, injuries both internal and external and expenditures for the cost of healthcare, past and future, all of which will continue. She claims her grandmother owed her a duty to exercise reasonable care and caution in owning and keeping the dog so as not to cause injury.

According to the III study, dog bite claim value between 2003-2012 increased 51.4 percent, rising from $324.2 million in 2003 to $489.7 million in 2012. The average cost per claim increased 55.3 percent in the same period from $19,162 in 2003 to $29,752 in 2012.

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