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How to Avoid Legal Repercussions After My Dog Bites Someone?

Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran

Man has had a close relationship with dogs for thousands of years. They have acted as our protectors, our guides, and our friends. But sometimes dogs can abandon their usual placid nature and attack humans or other dogs. Whether as a result of poor training, provocation, illness, or bad owners, they can attack without warning and cause devastating injuries or even death.

As a dog owner, is there anything you can do to avoid legal action if this happens? And when there is nothing you can do, what is likely to happen?

According to the CDC, just under 5 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year. Out of that number, some 800,000 need medical attention. That means around 1 in every 70 Americans will experience a dog bite each year.

While there may be certain breeds that always figure high in the dog bite rankings, there is a school of thought that says dangerous dogs are created by bad owners. It could be through neglect, cruelty, or through deliberate training as an attack dog, but owners should always be responsible if their animal breaks the dog bite law.

State Laws

While the language of each state’s laws differ, each state has dog bite statutes that have some form of “statutory strict liability.” This means that the owner has to take responsibility if their dog attacks a person, another dog, or in some cases, livestock.

The relevant parts of Michigan state law says the following:

“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.”

To put more simply, there are certain things that need to be proven in order for any legal claim to be successful.

  • Can you prove your injury was as a result of a dog biting you?
  • Did you in any way provoke the dog into attacking you? If you did, then you have no claim.
  • Were you in a public place when the attack happened? Or were you on private property but had a right to be there? The perfect example of the latter factor is a postal employee delivering mail.

It is worth noting that this part of Michigan laws only applies in bite cases. If, for example, a large dog knocks you to the ground and causes an injury, this law would not apply though you may be able to pursue a case for negligence if you can prove the owner did not exhibit sufficient control.

I Thought Michgan Was a “One-Bite State”

This used to be true. What it meant was that a dog owner could avoid liability if there had been no previous vicious behavior or if the owner had not been negligent. That one free dog bite rule no longer applies in the state of Michigan.

The law now says that the owner will always be held liable, no matter how gentle the dog had previously been except in these two circumstances.

  • Where the victim was trespassing. If you had no legal or lawful reason to be on the private property where the dog caused personal injury by biting you, then the owner will not be liable.
  • Where there was provocation of the dog. This provocation can be deliberate or accidental. If you throw a stone at a dog or step on its tail by accident, the law views both these examples as provocation.

Can Only the Owner be Held Liable?

Normally, yes. But in rare cases, a property owner may be held liable. This could happen if a landlord has a tenant with a dog and the landlord knows that the dog has a propensity to bite or attack. If they had not instructed the tenant to keep the dog restrained or indoors, then that may open them to liability.

Leash Laws

Michigan also has strict leash laws for dog owners. The law states that:

  • Any dog older than six months old should be registered, wear a collar, and should be on a leash when not on their owner’s property.
  • When a female dog is in heat, she must be restrained on a leash or kept within the owner’s property.

What Do I Do if my Dog Bites Someone?

If your dog does bite someone, there are some steps you should follow no matter what the circumstances of the incident are.

  • If the incident happens while walking your dog, gain control of your dog immediately. As with other types of incidents, remain calm and do not allow the incident to become confrontational.
  • If the bite victim needs medical assistance, call an ambulance.
  • Exchange contact information with the victim.
  • If there were any witnesses to the incident, ask for their contact information too.
  • If the incident happens in your home or garden, immediately place the dog in a separate room or in its crate.
  • Seek medical assistance if needed or offer first aid if minor injury.
  • Contact animal control for any dog bite incident. They may ask you to take more action than you have. Comply with any instructions they give. Animal control policies may vary greatly between counties so only contact your local office.
  • Have your dog’s vaccination record on hand – or get it from your vet – so that you can show your animal is up to date with rabies vaccinations.

What Happens After my Dog Bites Someone?

If your dog has bitten someone, animal control staff will attend, take custody of the dog and remove it to the Otsego County Animal Shelter. It will remain there for a period of 10 days. All costs incurred while it is in quarantine must be paid by the owner.

In some cases you can apply to the state’s director of public health who may grant permission for quarantine to take place either at the owner’s home or at a designated veterinary clinic.

It is very rare for the courts to order a dog to be euthanized after its first bite. This is only likely if the dog had caused severe injury or death. If the animal has been known to bite people before, it will be classed as a repeat offender and will likely face euthanasia unless the bites have been minor.

Statutes and Penalties

The statute of limitations for dog bite cases in Michigan is three years. That means the victim has three years from the date of the attack to file any claim.

In cases of severe injury or death, the owner may also face further criminal charges with the following penalties:

  • Serious injury (felony). Maximum four years prison time, a maximum $2,000 fine, a minimum 500 hours of community service, or any combination of those penalties that the court decides on.
  • Serious injury (felony). Maximum four years prison time, a maximum $2,000 fine, a minimum 500 hours of community service, or any combination of those penalties that the court decides on.

Statutes and Penalties

Will My Insurance Cover Dog Bite Claims?

That will depend on the wording of your insurance policy. Many people have reduced their coverage to basic dwelling or fire damage. And if your dog has bitten before, then your insurance company may raise your premiums or even insert a dog bite waiver.

How Much Will a Dog Bite Claim Cost Me?

It’s impossible to give an exact figure as any award made will depend on the severity of the injury, medical bills incurred, lost wages due to the injury, etc. But figures from the Insurance Information Institute show that insurers paid out $675 million in claims related to dog bites and other injuries caused by dogs. Although the total number of claims has decreased, the average cost per claim rose to $39,017 nationally in 2017, a sobering figure if you are a dog owner with no insurance.

Some Final Thoughts

How to avoid legal repercussions after my dog bites someone? Legally, there really isn’t any way to avoid repercussions. Of course, if your dog only causes a minor injury to the victim, then they may agree to settle the matter informally. But working within state laws and regulations, the matter should be reported every time.

If your dog has bitten someone and caused an injury, it is advisable to contact an experienced dog bite law firm such as Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. as soon as possible.

We not only pursue claims on behalf of people who have suffered dog bites, we will also defend owners whose dog has bitten someone, especially where you feel there was provocation or trespass. If you have any questions, we offer a free initial consultation to discuss your case. You can schedule an appointment by calling us today at 1-866-MICH-LAW.

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.

Steve is a former criminal justice worker. With degrees in psychology and social work, he spent most of his life helping those with addiction issues before switching to criminal justice. He was responsible for writing court reports and advising judges on sentencing. He also supervised offenders, including sex offenders, in the community and carried out risk assessments and probation appraisals. He now lives in SE Asia and is working on his 5th novel.



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