Michigan Lawyer Aaron Larson

Michigan Dog Bite Law and Injury Prevention

Dog bites are a very common form of injury, for both adults and children. They can have serious consequences, including permanent disfigurement and psychological trauma. In extreme cases, they may result in death. While it is not possible to know in advance whether a dog will attack -- even the nicest, gentlest dogs have been known to bite -- there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your children from being bitten.


Michigan Dog Bite Law

There are two theories of liability under Michigan's dog bite law. First, there is the possibility of bringing an action under Michigan's dog bite statute. Second, a dog bite action can be brought under Michigan common law. There is no "one bite rule" under Michigan law - a dog owner can be held liable for the animal's first bite or attack.

Under Michigan's dog bite statute, if a dog bites a person, without provocation while the person is on public property, or lawfully on private property, including the property of the owner of the dog, the owner of the dog shall be liable for any damages suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness. Under the statute a person is lawfully on the private property of the owner of the dog if the person is on the owner's property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him or her by state law or U.S. postal regulation, or if the person is on the owner's property as an invited guest, customer or client of the person lawfully in possession of the property. However, damages are not available to a person who gains lawful entry upon the premises for the purpose of committing an unlawful or criminal act.

Defendants in statutory dog bite actions tend to focus on the question of provocation, as provocation need not be intentional under Michigan law to provide a defense. For example, a child who pets a dog while the dog is eating, or who tries to take a piece of food away from a hungry dog, may not mean to "provoke" the dog, but you can anticipate that the defense attorney will argue that the child's acts constitute "provocation".

Michigan's common law provides a possible remedy, where the person who owns or possesses a dog knows or has reason to know that the dog is dangerous, as compared to other dogs. The owner of an unreasonably dangerous dog is strictly liable for the harm it causes to others, even where the dog owner has exercised the utmost care to prevent it from doing the harm. However, this liability is limited to harm that results from the abnormally dangerous propensity of which the possessor knows or has reason to know. Comparative negligence applies to the recovery of damages, meaning that a plaintiff's negligence can serve to reduce the damages recovered from any injury from a dog attack in proportion to the relative fault of the parties.

Protecting Yourself

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when encountering a dog is that there is no such thing as a dog that does not bite. Also, it is possible to be injured by a dog in ways other than through a bite injury.


Tips and Suggestions

General Safety

Even when you know a dog, it is important to follow basic principles of safety:

  • Ask the owner's permission before you try to touch or pet the dog.
  • Do not suddenly approach a dog, particularly when you are in its territory.
  • After getting the owner's permission, extend the back of your hand to the dog and allow the dog to sniff you before you try to touch or pet it. (Remember - the back of your hand, not your fingers.)
  • Do not try to touch a dog that is eating.
  • Do not touch or pet a dog that is resting or sleeping -- the dog should be aware of your approach. ("Let sleeping dogs lie.")
  • Be very careful around a mother dog that has puppies. This is particularly true if the mother is nursing.
  • Exercise extra care in small or enclosed areas, where a dog may feel cornered.
  • Avoid getting the dog very excited, or engaging in excessively rough play. The dog's instincts may overpower its self-control.
  • Do not stare a strange or threatening dog in the eyes.
  • If you suspect that a dog is abused or neglected, respect that the dog may be dangerous.
  • Never leave a baby or toddler alone with a dog. As mentioned above, some experts contend that no child under the age of ten should be left alone with a dog.

Dogs you don't know

Sometimes you can get a sense for a dog's temperment even though you don't know it. If you suspect that a dog may be vicious, respond accordingly.

However, even when you think a dog is friendly, in addition to the general safety rules outlined above, if you must approach a strange dog try to test how the dog will react. For example, if you are getting a ball or toy from a yard where a dog is present, get the dog's attention while you are safely on the other side of a fence to see how it responds.

Don't back away from a strange dog - it may think that you are playing.

Special Circumstances

Riding a Bicycle -- You are not just at risk of being bitten, but you also have a significant chance of being injured if you hit a dog as it runs in front of your bicycle. It is best to try to keep distance between yourself and any dogs.

Jogging, Running, and Rollerblading -- if you are engaged in a sport where you attract a dog's attention through your rapid movement, you should try to keep a safe distance from dogs. That includes dogs which are on leashes. If you are approached by an unrestrained dog (no chain or leash), don't try to outrun it -- it is probably faster than you. Instead, stay still until it loses interest in you.

Protecting Children

In addition to the points raised above, it is important to take steps to educate children about how to behave around dogs, and to provide appropriate supervision for young children when dogs are present. Some experts suggest that children under the age of ten should never be left alone with a dog, as they may not behave appropriately around the dog, and they may be too small to defend themselves against an attack from even a small dog. Also, dogs may be confused by the movements and behavior of young children and mistake them for prey.

Dog Safety Rules for Children

In addition to the general safety rules that are outlined above, which apply to both children and adults, children should be educated as to the following:

  • Not every dog that wags its tail is friendly.
  • Never approach or play with a dog unless and adult is present.
  • Never approach a stray dog, or a dog you do not know.
  • Get permission from the dog owner before approaching a dog. (When you approach the dog, it is a good idea for the owner to be present.)
  • Remain calm and still when a dog approaches you.
  • Do not tease dogs.
  • Do not make loud noises around a dog.
  • Do not stare into a dogs eyes. Avoid making direct eye contact.
  • Do not try to help an injured dog. Get a grown-up to help.
  • Don't put your hand between two dogs.
  • If a dog is behind a fence, don't reach through the fence.
  • Keep your face away from dogs.
  • Don't back away from a dog - it may think that you are playing.

If a dog seems scary:

  • If you are scared by a dog, do not run away, scream, or shout.
  • If a dog knocks you over, stay on the ground, and stay completely still.
  • Protect your head, face, neck and arms.
  • Tell a grown-up about the dog.

If a dog bites:

  • Try to give the dog something else to bite or chew, such as a backpack or jacket.
  • Protect your head and face.
  • Tell a grown-up right away.

Your Rights If You Are Attacked

Under Michigan law, people who are the victims of unprovoked dog bites while in a public place or lawfully on the premises where the attack occurs are almost always able to establish liability on the part of the dog owner. It doesn't matter if the dog has never bitten another person -- there is no "free bite rule" in Michigan, and dog owners can be liable the very first time their dog bites somebody.

People may be injured by dogs without being bitten. For example, dogs can cause injury with their claws, can knock people ove, and can upset bicycles. If injured, these people may also have the right to recover damages from a dog owner.

If you or your child are bitten by a dog:

• Try to identify the dog. If the dog may have rabies, it is important to receive appropriate vaccines.

• Don't argue with the dog owner. Many dog owners simply won't believe that their dog would bite at all, or if not severely provoked. Arguing doesn't do any good.

• Don't sign papers or make recorded statements. It is possible that the dog owner, property owner, or their insurance company will try to get you to make a statement, in writing or on tape, about what happened. Their goal is probably to get you to make statements which help them avoid their liability for your injuries. If they approach you, you should consider having a lawyer assist you.

• Make a report of the incident to the police. The police will investigate the circumstances of the dog bite, and will make a report which may help establish what happened.

• Seek medical care. Dog bites can involve puncture wounds from fangs, which can easily become infected. Infection can occur even with scrapes and abrasions. An infected wound can result in a worse scar, and may also cause serious complications and side effects. Also, if you wait to get treatment it may not be possible to suture your wounds, increasing the severity of scarring and possibility complicating your recovery.

• Consider Consulting a Lawyer. An attorney who handles dog bite cases can help you get the compensation you are entitled to receive for your financial losses as well as for your pain and suffering. Even if an insurance company offers to write you a check, it can help to have a lawyer review the proposed settlement. Insurance companies are notorious for making low settlement offers to unrepresented individuals. An attorney should be able to identify and preserve evidence about the dog attack, to negotiate with the insurance company, to identify any additional people beyond the dog's owner who may also be liable for damages, and to take any additional steps necessary to obtain a fair outcome.


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