Michigan Dog Bite Laws
In this article, we’ll take a close look at a few key Michigan laws and legal doctrines that could affect an injury claim filed over a dog bite, including the state’s “dog bite” statute, when criminal as well as civil liability might apply to a dog bite incident, and what defenses a dog owner can raise when faced with a dog bite claim .
Michigan’s Dog Bite Statute
Michigan Compiled Laws Annotated section 297.351 contains the state’s “strict liability” rule for holding dog owners civilly responsible for injuries and other losses when their dog bites someone. Under this statute, a dog’s owner can be held liable if:
- the dog bites another person
- the person bitten did not provoke the dog, and
- the person was on public property (or lawfully on private property, including the property of the dog owner).
Michigan’s dog bite statute only applies to cases where a bite causes injury. It does not apply to cases where injuries result from something else the dog does. For instance, if a pedestrian is walking on a public sidewalk when she is tripped by a dog and falls, she may not seek damages under the state’s statute. However, the pedestrian could still bring a negligence claim against the owner of the dog (more on this in the next section).
Negligence Claims for Dog-Related Injuries in Michigan
Michigan’s dog bite statute is a “strict liability” statute. In other words, it does not matter whether the owner knew the dog was dangerous or whether they took steps to restrain the dog. If the dog bites someone, the injured person can seek damages under the statute.
If a dog injures someone in another way, however — or when the statute doesn’t apply because of the circumstances — the person who was injured may try to file a “negligence “-based claim against the dog’s owner. In a negligence claim, the injured person must prove that:
- the dog’s owner failed to use reasonable care to control or restrain the dog
- the dog caused the plaintiff’s injuries, and
- the injuries resulted from the owner’s missteps in controlling or restraining the dog.
While the strict liability rule applies to bites, the negligence rule applies to all other kinds of injuries (it can also apply to bites). For instance, if you are working in your own yard when a neighbor’s dog runs over and bites you, the strict liability rule applies — you don’t have to show the court that the owner failed to take reasonable care to restrain the dog. But if you are working in your yard and the neighbor’s dog runs over and knocks you down, causing injury, the negligence rule applies — you will have to show the court that you were injured because your neighbor failed to take reasonable care to restrain or control the dog.
Criminal Penalties in Dog Bite Cases
Michigan Compiled Laws Annotated section 287 also includes rules for owners of “dangerous dogs,” or dogs known to have bitten or attacked another person without provocation, while the person was trespassing, or without self-defense or defense of its owner. Owners of “dangerous dogs” may be charged with a felony if the dog attacks another person and causes death or serious injury. If the dog causes non-serious injury or is “running at large,” the owner may be charged with a misdemeanor.
If a dangerous dog injures a person, the owner may face a criminal charge and a civil lawsuit at the same time. Criminal charges are filed by the state or local prosecutor’s office, and penalties include imprisonment, probation or parole, fines, and community service. A civil claim is filed by the injured person directly, and liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages.
Defenses to a Michigan Dog Bite Claim
The defenses a dog’s owner might raise in a civil dog bite claim depend on whether the claim is a “strict liability” claim based on the statute, or a “negligence” claim.
In a strict liability claim, the statute provides two potential defenses: provocation and trespassing. The owner may not be liable for the dog bite if the owner can show either that the injured person was provoking the dog, or that the injured person was trespassing unlawfully on private property when he or she was bitten.
In a negligence claim, provocation may operate as a partial defense under Michigan’s “comparative negligence” rule. The comparative negligence rule reduces the amount of liability belonging to the dog’s owner if the owner can show that the injured person was partly or wholly responsible for his or her injuries. To establish provocation as a defense under this rule, the owner will have to show that the dog would not have injured the plaintiff if the plaintiff had not been provoking the dog. Learn more: What if I am partly responsible for my dog bite injuries in Michigan?
Get the compensation you deserve.
Posted In: NEWS