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Dog Bites: Understanding Your Liability and Steps to Recovery

Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran

There are approximately 4.7 million dog bites in the United States each year. In Michigan, the death toll for dog bites was 19 for the years 2005 through 2017, and that makes Michigan the 6th in line for the number of dog bites in the country. If you are a dog owner, you should have access to a dog bite lawyer at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. so that you can defend yourself and your dog if there is an incident where your dog bites someone or another dog.

In some cases, you can also be liable for negligence if your dog pushes or causes injuries to a person due to jumping or unruly behavior. At the extreme of both situations is the possibility of having your dog declared a “dangerous dog,” and having to have it put down. Michigan, because of the number of dog bites, continues to have a very strict policy in regards to keeping the public safe, and at the same time holding the dog’s owners accountable for their dog’s behavior.

What is the Law in Michigan?

The law in Michigan is Michigan Law 287.351 and is much less lenient than some other states that may allow a dog to bite once, or even twice if the bite was determined to be the first time the dog had bitten someone. In Michigan, the law is written as a “strict liability’ and means that with even one bite the owner of the dog is liable for damages whether or not the dog had bitten someone in the past.

There are some qualifying aspects to the law, however, and these must be proven to require the insurance carrier to pay damages or medical costs due to injury. In fact, thoroughly understanding these provisions from both a defendant’s position and that of the victim, can lead to a more amenable solution to the claims after an incident.

When is the Owner Liable?

A Michigan dog owner is liable when their dog bites someone only one time. In this case, the victim must be able to prove that any injuries that were caused were caused by the dog’s bite. In addition, the victim must be able to show that the incident occurred in a public place like a park or a street, or if it occurred on private property and that they were invited to be on the property. Lastly, the victim must be able to substantiate that they did not provoke the dog in any way. If any of these stipulations are not met, there are the possibilities of dismissing the victim’s claim.

The dog owner can also be liable under the claim of negligence. If a dog jumps up on a victim and knocks that person to the ground, causing injuries, then the victim can sue the owner for the damages. Similarly, if several dogs are playing and an innocent bystander is knocked to the ground and injured, then this also falls under a claim of negligence.

The “Dangerous Dog” Label

In some cases, the dog can be declared to be a “dangerous dog,” and the owner could be required to appear in court to prove that the dog is not a danger and that they can control the dog. In extreme cases, the courts could rule that the dog be put down due to its dangerous behavior. This information is found in Michigan Law 287.321 and 287-323 of the statute.

Situations that should be looked at in case of a “dangerous dog” label can include when the dog attacks someone who is trespassing on private property, when a person has been tormenting a dog, or when someone has been assaulting the owner, and the dog is protecting the owner form harm. Tormenting a dog, or animal is defined as acts that cause pain, distress, or suffering to an animal that would cause it to attack and defend itself.

Why Do Dogs Bite?

In about 30% of the times that there are dog bites, the dogs bite children. It is important for the owner of the dog to be aware when children are around their dogs and that if the dog is unfamiliar with children that care be taken to protect the child. When an owner pays attention to their dog, they can usually tell when the dog is uncomfortable in a particular situation. For instance, the dog may get up and move away from a child who is trying to make friends, or the dog may turn its head or do a wet dog shake. The dog may even give you a pleading look to ask for help.

When children get bitten, they often do not notice that the dog may be protecting their food dish, a litter of puppies, or a possession. The dog’s resting place can also be an area of concern, or the dog can be protecting the owner’s property. Sometimes the dog is just plain grumpy and having a bad day.

Postmen, Postwomen, and Fed-X drivers are also high on the list as victims for dog bites. This is an old story, but usually, dogs bite these delivery people because the dog is protecting their owner’s property. A person walking up to the house, and then walking away very quickly does not give the dog time to learn anything about them, and this can make a dog anxious. Also, anytime there is movement by the person to cross the boundary between the outside of the house to the inside, the dog’s area, there can be a problem. Many bites to postal carriers happen when the carrier is pushing mail through the door. The dog will actually bite their hands when the mail is being fed through the mail slot.

Dog’s thrive on the routine the owner sets for them, and they look forward to their daily walk or meals to happen at about the same time. Children and letter carriers do not always appear regularly, and this causes anxiety in some dogs.

Result of a Dog Bite

What Can Happen as a Result of a Dog Bite?

When there is an incident where a dog bites a human, it can be a serious injury, and great care should be taken to ensure the complete recovery of the victim. The teeth of a dog are very sharp and sometimes long. These teeth coupled with the strength of the dog’s jaw muscles can cause puncture wounds from the canine teeth grabbing the victim, or there can also be ripping wounds from the back teeth as the dog tries to hang on to the victim.

Dog bite injuries can come in many forms, and some of the most serious are lacerations and puncture wounds. However, when the dog attacks the face or body in places other than the arms or legs, there can be broken bones, nerve damage, and even death. One of the most terrifying injuries that can happen is permanent scarring or disfigurement when the face is torn or deeply scratched. Like any accident, the events of the accident can happen very quickly, and the damage can last a long time. It is vital that dog owners know their dogs and make sure that people around them treat the dogs with caution and respect. The dog owner needs to be in control.

Steps to Take When There is a Dog Bite

If you or someone visiting you are bitten by a dog, the most important thing that you should do is seek medical attention. The first act is to examine the wound and note how much blood is flowing from the victim’s wound. If it is a puncture wound, let the blood flow a little to assist the body in removing ay bacteria. If there is a different kind of wound, it should be covered with a clean towel to help stop the bleeding. Try to keep the wound elevated and wash it with some soap and warm water. You should apply a clean bandage as soon as possible.

Transport the victim to an emergency room, hospital, or clinic as soon as you can. You should be prepared to tell the attending doctor as much as you can about the dog, the owner, and the incident. If the dog was a stray or exhibited strange behavior, it could be necessary to take steps beyond the visit to the doctor. Take photographs of the wounds once the doctor has examined them.

Always notify the local dog patrol authorities and describe the incident and location where the event happened. The owner and the victim should exchange information concerning names, telephone numbers, insurance carriers, and any health records for the dog, including vaccinations for rabies and other diseases.

Once the victim has seen the doctor, the next step is to contact a dog bite lawyer at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. The attorney can assist the victim and the owner in gathering detailed information about the incident to make sure that everyone is treated fairly and that the victim reaches a full recovery. Having an attorney involved in the early stages can also reduce any hard feeling or misunderstandings if relatives, friends, or work colleagues are involved in the case.

Serious Diseases

A dog bite can have other effects on the victim other than the bite itself. There are some serious diseases that can develop if the victim is not treated by a doctor and possibly if the whole history of the dog is unknown. Rabies is the disease that is most commonly associated with dog bites. If you are unsure whether the dog has been vaccinated against rabies, then it is very important to seek advice and counsel from local authorities and qualified medical personnel.

Tetanus is another well-known disease that can evolve due to a puncture wound from a dog bite. In most cases, the doctor treating the wound will update the victim’s tetanus prevention status with a shot. However, if a doctor or hospital is not involved in the treatment, this should be taken into consideration and addressed.

Other diseases than can develop are infections from Pasteurella, an inflammation of the wound caused by bacteria from the dog’s mouth, and MRSA, Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or Staph Infection that can be very serious if not treated.

Statute of Limitations

The law in Michigan limits the amount of time the victim of a dog bite has to make a claim. The victim has three years from the date of the bite, and if this is not honored then there is probably little chance that the courts will consider the claim. However, if the claim is from someone under 18, the person has until their 19th birthday to file the claim. A competent dog bite attorney at our firm will always have these important dates recorded and will act as a guide in making sure all legal requirements are met.

Dog Bite Prevention

There are always things that a dog owner can do to be proactive in preventing a situation where a dog bites someone. Some of the most common ideas include choosing a pet that has a good temperament and one who has a history of behaving well with people. Never leave a child alone with a dog, especially if there are no young children in the household. This can lead to the child being unprotected and the dog being afraid of this small, fast moving person. Finally, whenever you approach a dog, do so slowly and let the dog come to you. Never run from a dog, and stay calm if the dog seems aggressive. Never make eye contact.


In Michigan, the laws make it very clear that your dog is only given the chance to bite one person before you are liable for damages and claims of personal injury. Dog bites are serious, and the injuries caused by bites can lead to many kinds of wounds and diseases. As a dog owner, your insurance carrier will ultimately be responsible for compensating for these damages, but in cases where there are severe wounds and even death, this could be life changing.

The law firm of Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C., are skilled at assisting both owners and victims of dog bites in reaching fair coverage agreements with their insurance carriers. We are available with just a phone call at 866-MICH-LAW, and there is no charge for an initial consultation. Our law firm also never charges a fee unless we win your case.

Disclaimer : The information provided is general and not for legal advice. The blogs are not intended to provide legal counsel and no attorney-client relationship is created nor intended.

Tim is a writer and editor who earned his Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Maryland and calls Washington, D.C., home after spending most of his adult life in the country's capital. Although Tim spent most of his post-college years in the restaurant industry, he became interested in writing about legal matters after he recently moved to Colombia. Today, Tim writes professionally about medical malpractice, drug policies, and workplace injuries. Tim is focused on curating his freelancing career and plans to work remotely for as long he can.



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