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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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