When Dogs Attack – Litigation

Most states relinquish the owner from liability for the first bite of the dog under what it termed the One Bite Rule. In other words, if the dog has bitten someone once, it is considered to have demonstrated vicious conduct and therefore from that initial occurrence, the owner is, from that point forward, put on notice of the animals’ violent tendencies and is liable for any subsequent attacks.  Michigan, however, is not a One Bite Rule state.  Michigan law has two theories in regards to liability in dog bite cases.  The first is statutory and is mandated under MCL 287.351.  The second is mandated under Michigan’s common law.

 

STATUTORY LAW

The State of Michigan is known as a strict liability state; basically stated, in Michigan a dog owner is responsible for any physical injuries caused by a dog bite the victim. This law was enacted by the state in 1939 and was effective May 4, 1939, under Public Act 73 of 1939 (Liability of Owner for Dog Bite).

 

Under Michigan law, MCL 287.351, states:

287.351          Person bitten by dog; liability of owner.

         Sec 1

(1)   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.

(2)   A person is lawfully on the private property of the owner of the dog within the meaning of this act if the person is on the owner's property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him or her by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or if the person is on the owner's property as an invitee or licensee of the person lawfully in possession of the property unless said person has gained lawful entry upon the premises for the purpose of an unlawful or criminal act.

 

COMMON LAW

If the dog’s owner knew that the dog had a tendency to be vicious, under Michigan common law, the dog owner is liable if he or she knows, or has reason to know, that the dog is potentially dangerous. Under Michigan law, the dog bite statute does not repeal the common law rules.  It becomes the dog owner’s liability if an injury occurs because the dogs’ owner neglect in not putting a leash on the dog, failing to properly control the dog, or not using a proper sign to warn of the others of a potentially dangerous dog.

               

LEGAL COMPONENTS OF A CLAIM UNDER MCL 287.351

In order to demonstrate a valid and viable claim under MCL 287.351, the defendant must be the owner of the dog in question and that a bite actually happened.  The best way to identify the owner of the dog is usually through licensing, vaccination records and witnesses.  Proof of the injury can be satisfied through medical reports, photos and witness statements.

 

This Michigan statute holds that dog owners strictly liable for the actions of their dogs, especially when the dog bites someone as long as:

·         The animal was not provoked,

·         That if the occurrence happened on the dog owner's property, and

·         The victim was not a trespasser or on the property to do something unlawful or criminal.

 

Michigan statute also provides that 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 dog owner, the owner of the dog will 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.

 

Per this statute, a person is legally on the private property of the dog owner if the person is on the owner's property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him or her by state law or US postal regulation.  This also holds true if the person is on the dog owner's property as an invited guest, customer or client of the person lawfully in possession of the property. Damages are not available to a person enters the premises for the purpose of committing an unlawful or criminal act.

 

In addition, when the person who owns or possesses a dog has the knowledge or has reason to believe that the dog is dangerous, as compared to other dogs; the owner of an unreasonably dangerous dog is strictly liable for the injury it causes to others; even if the dog owner has exercised extreme care to prevent the dog from causing injury. Liability, in this respect, is limited to injuries that results from the uncharacteristically dangerous tendency of the dog in which the owner is aware of or has reason to believe. In other words, if a victim’s negligence can serve to decrease the damages recovered from any injury from a dog attack in proportion to the relative fault of the parties.

 

PROVOCATION UNDER MICHIGAN LAW

Provocation, as described in law, is the conduct by which one encourages another to do a particular deed; the act of inducing rage, anger, or resentment in another that may cause that person to engage in an illegal act.  This is the only defense that can be used in a dog bite cases.  Many defendants’ cite victim provocation, as provocation does not need to be intentional under Michigan law, in regards to providing a defense.  Although one may not have intended to provoke the animal by petting it while the dog was eating; however, you can bank on the defense attorney for the dog owner arguing that the victim’s act constitutes provocation.

 

MICHIGAN’S STATUTE OF LIMITATION IN REGARDS TO DOG BITE CASES

Per the law in the State of Michigan, a victim of a dog bite is allowed to file legal action within three years of the date of the incident.  If the victim, or his representatives, fails to meet the three-year deadline, the case will be over and lose all rights to be able to take legal action for the injuries sustained.  The only exception to this statute of limitation is when the injured party is a minor or legally incapacitated; which is often extended beyond the three years limitation.  It is essential that, if you or a family member are a victim of a dog bite, that you contact our office as soon as possible to ensure that you do not lose your rights to a fair settlement.

 

DAMAGES

Depending on the case, as well as the specific injuries you or your child has suffered, the dog owner, in addition to assuming liability, may also be responsible for the compensation of the injured person for the physical injuries they sustained during the attack, covering hospital and medical charges. Damages can also be sought for pain and suffering, post-traumatic stress, and psychological trauma due to scarring and/or disfigurement.  In some cases, a victim of a dog attack may be able to recover punitive damages and are typically be awarded in cases where the dog owner was grossly negligent (i.e., instructed the dog to attack, etc.).

 

WHY YOU NEED THE LAW OFFICES OF REX ANDERSON

Why should you consult the Law Offices of Rex Anderson?  Rex is an attorney who has litigated many dog bite cases over the past twenty years.  Rex’s team can help you get the compensation you are entitled to receive for your financial losses, pain and suffering. If an insurance company offers a settlement, it is prudent to have a lawyer review the offer. Insurance companies are infamous for making low-ball offers to unrepresented victims. Our office has the professional expertise to identify and preserve evidence regarding the attack, negotiate with the insurance companies, as well as identify other people or entities, in addition to the dog's owner, who may also be liable for damages, and take any necessary steps to ensure that you receive a fair settlement.

 

Collaborative Writing by Rex C. Anderson, Esquire and Contributing Research/Writing by Sheryl L. Sutter

 

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