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What Does Strict Liability Mean In Dog Bite Claims?

Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran

If you’ve been bitten by a dog in a public place, you may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.

Michigan Dog Bite Laws

Michigan state laws on strict liability in dog bite claims say that a dog owner is held strictly liable for your injuries and other damages if you, the injured party can prove that:

  • Your injury was caused by a particular dog
  • You did not provoke the dog
  • The incident happened in a public place — or you were lawfully on private property

Some states have structured their dog bite statutes differently, and have what is referred to as a “free bite” rule. In these states, if the dog has no history of aggressive behavior, and this is the first time the dog has bitten someone, the owner is not liable because he/she lacked previous knowledge of the dog’s potentially dangerous behavior.

Some cities in Michigan have liability laws concerning dog (or any domestic animal) bites that are more stringent than the state law, usually to deflect any liability away from them, its agents or employees, for damages caused by a dog on municipal property.

An attorney from Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. will be glad to meet with you at your convenience to learn more about you and your dog bite injury and help you understand your legal options. After this free consultation, if we decide to work together, it will be a contingency fee agreement, which means we don’t get paid until we secure a settlement or jury award for you.

What Does It Mean to Be Lawfully On Private Property?

You are considered to be lawfully on private property if:

  • You were performing duties imposed on you by a government entity, such as road maintenance
  • You were performing duties imposed by the USPS or other lawful delivery service
  • You were an invited guest, business customer, or client

Can landlords be held liable for dog bites by dogs belonging to tenants? Yes. Sometimes the individual who is negligent isn’t the only entity who is liable. There is some legal precedent in Michigan for holding a landlord liable if it can be proven that the landlord knew of the dog’s vicious nature. Property owners can be held responsible for any dangerous condition on their property.

Proving Negligence: Basic Documentary Evidence

Proving the dog’s owner was negligent and held liable is a lot harder than you think it is, and there are several important things to do in the immediate aftermath of a dog bite incident that are important for the injured person’s health and safety, as well as for a possible personal injury claim in the future.

  • See a doctor. If a paramedic or police officer at the scene wants you to go to the hospital for treatment, do so. Never refuse treatment. If no one is around to tell you to see a doctor, you must go anyway. It’s okay to go to an urgent care center — but see some kind of doctor as soon as you can after the dog attacked and/or injured you. Even if stitches aren’t necessary, the wound(s) must still be treated to avoid infection.

Receiving medical attention also provides documentary proof that the dog bite happened. It’s important to tell every person who treats you about the incident and describe the dog and owner, too, when you do. This creates the legal link you may need in the future between receiving medical treatment and the attack. Medical records provide strong foundational evidence that can make or break dog bite cases.

  • Report the incident. It’s also important to report the incident to animal control authorities, which in Michigan are mostly county-based. Some larger municipalities and cities, like Detroit, have their own. If you are treated by a doctor for your injuries and/or if there is a police officer on the scene, then the local animal control authority will be called automatically, by law.
  • Get the dog’s owner information. At the very least, get the name, address, and contact information of the dog’s owner. Also, ask for the name of their insurance company. If the dog owner rents, try to get the same information about the landlord/property owner.
  • Interview witnesses. Get names and contact information for any witnesses, including collecting video interviews at the scene. Witnesses may provide information that can help you prove that the owner knew from other instances that he/she had a dangerous dog.

Michigan dog laws are clear about liability, and the dog’s owner really only has two possible defenses to your dog bite claim:

1. provocation
2. trespassing on the dog owner’s property

Calculating Your Damages

In considering your dog bite personal injury case, and what it might represent monetarily, there are two areas of damages and personal loss considered:

  • Special Damages. Gather all your medical bills, receipts for any costs related to your injury, and lost wage statements from your employer if you’ve missed work. Include everything you can think of, including counseling/therapy, transportation costs, and out-of-pocket expenses. These are the hard costs associated with your dog bite injury and collectively represent what is referred to as special damages.
  • General Damages. How has the dog bite injury negatively impacted your life? Are you permanently scarred? Disfigured? Are you able to work at the same job you had before the injury? Are you able to work at all? These damages, including emotional trauma, are referred to as general damages.

Depending on the nature and severity of your injuries, both special damages and general damages can represent a significant settlement and/or jury award.

Statute of Limitations

While the statute of limitations for filing a dog bite personal injury claim is three years from the date of the injury, your case is almost always weakened by waiting too long. It takes time to develop a case, interview witnesses, and explore a range of negligence and liability issues before officially filing your personal injury claim.

Finding an attorney and law firm to work with you is an important first step in your recovery process — and in securing the compensation and damages you deserve.

An attorney from Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. can meet with you at the time and place that is convenient and comfortable for you, including our offices, your home, or another location.

Contact us toll-free (24 hours) at 1-866-MICH-LAW or use our convenient online contact form to schedule your no-obligation consultation.

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.

Mark is a freelance writer living near Concord, New Hampshire. He works with a range of businesses and professional associations in their strategic messaging and content development projects. He also provides content development services to nonprofits and government agencies, helping them distill complex topics and make information more accessible across multiple platforms. When he's not writing, he enjoys working outside and finds mowing his fields on a warm sunny day to be a peak experience.



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