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Michigan Dog Owner Liability Under Michigan Dog Bite Laws

Under certain circumstances, dog owners can be liable for dog bites and other injuries caused by their pet, as dictated by three specific types of laws. These circumstances and the standards that affect dog owner liability are as follows:

1. If the dog owner knew the dog had a tendency to cause injury…

ONE BITE RULES in some states relinquish the owner from liability for the first bite of the dog. However, once the dog has bitten someone it is considered to have demonstrated vicious behavior. The owner is hereafter on notice of its violent propensities and is liable for any subsequent attacks.

In Michigan, there is no “one bite rule.”  Instead, there are two theories of liability, one is statutory, and the other is under Michigan’s common law.

Under the Michigan Dog Bite Statute (MCL § 287.351), the owner of the dog can be liable for the first bite as long as the victim (1) was lawfully on the property and (2) the victim did not provoke the dog.

Under Michigan’s common law, the victim only has to prove that the owner of the dog knew (or should have known) that the dog had vicious propensities.

2. If a dog bite occurs in a state with a DOG BITE STATUTE…

The dog owner is strictly liable for any dog bite injury caused by the pet, regardless of the underlying circumstances.

In Michigan, a dog bite statute is in effect.  (See MCL § 287.351 (2009))  There are three key points to the statute:

(1)  Knowing that the dog could be dangerous is irrelevant:

Knowledge of the dog’s viciousness is irrelevant under the statute.  The dog could have been well behaved its entire life, never before biting anyone.  Under this statute, the first bitecan invoke liability.

(2)  You must be lawfully on the property:

The owner of a dog will be liable if the dog attacked you while you were on either (1) public property, or (2) while you were lawfully on private property (i.e. you weren’t trespassing or committing a crime).  In other words, if you were invited onto the dog owner’s property as a guest or a potential customer, then you were lawfully on the property and can likely recover for your injuries.

(3)  The Defense of Provocation:

The only defense the dog owner can assert is provocation.  If you were bitten after you provoked the dog, then you may be barred from recovery.

Provocation does not have to be done intentionally; instead, it can be done accidentally.  In other words, you do not have to intend to anger the dog.  If your act would have caused a regular dog to bite, then it could be considered provocation under Michigan law, barring your claim.

For example, in Brans v Extrom, 266 Mich App 216; 701 NW2d 163 (2005) the plaintiff accidentally stepped on the dog’s tail, causing the dog to bite the plaintiff’s leg.  A jury found this to be adequate provocation.  The Court of Appeals denied the dog owner a new trial by holding that the plaintiff’s intent was immaterial.

3. If the injury was caused by extreme carelessness of the owner of the dog…

NEGLIGENCE LAWS in some states deem the dog owner liable.

In Michigan, the dog bite statute did not abrogate the common law rules.  Under Michigan common law, the dog owner can be liable if he or she knows (or has reason to know) that the dog can be dangerous.  This dog owner will then be liable if the injury occurred because the dog owner was careless by not putting a leash on the dog, failed to adequately supervise the dog, or did not use a proper sign to warn of the dangerous dog.

Damages:

Based on the specific scenario, in addition to assuming liability, a dog owner may also be responsible for reimbursing the injured person for medical or psychological bills, pain and suffering caused by the attack, mental anguish, lost wages among others.

Summary:

The various types of Michigan Dog Bite laws can be very confusing.  That is why it is very important for you to speak with a Michigan attorney who specializes in Michigan Dog bites or Michigan Dog Bite Attacks.  Our law firm has achieved fantastic results for dozens of seriously injured children and adults bitten or knocked down by Michigan Dogs.  Call or email us today for a free consultation.  855-MIKE-WINS or mike@855mikewins.com.

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