Michigan Dog Bite Laws

A Michigan dog owner's liability for bites and other injuries, deadlines for bringing a dog bite case to court in Michigan, and more.

If you own a dog in Michigan, or you've been injured by someone else's animal in the state, laws related to dog bite injury liability may be of particular interest to you. In this article, we'll discuss:

  • the statute of limitations deadline for filing a dog bite lawsuit in Michigan's court system
  • Michigan's status as a "strict liability" state for purposes of a dog owner's financial responsibility for bite injuries, and
  • key defenses a Michigan dog owner might raise when faced with a personal injury lawsuit over a bite or other animal-caused injury.

Michigan's Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite Lawsuits

Laws called statutes of limitations impose a deadline on your right to file a civil lawsuit in your state's courts. Different kinds of cases are subject to different time limits, but the consequences of missing the filing window are the same: the court will dismiss your case as "time-barred" unless a rare extension of the filing deadline is called for based on the circumstances.

As in most states, there's no specific Michigan statute of limitations for dog bite lawsuits. Instead, these claims typically fall under the larger umbrella of "personal injury," and Michigan's statute of limitations for personal injury cases (MCL section 600.5805) says that any lawsuit "to recover damages for the death of a person, or for injury to a person or property" must be filed within three years (that meansfiling a personal injury complaint in court). The "clock" usually starts running on the date the bite or other injury occurred.

Michigan's Dog Bite Statute

Michigan is one of several states that has a specific statute covering a dog owner's liability for dog bite injuries. MCL section 287.351 says:

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.

MCL section 287.351 is a "strict liability" statute, meaning the owner of a dog cannot escape liability for bite injuries by claiming he or she did not have any warning that the dog was dangerous, or likely to bite. If the dog bites a person, the owner is automatically liable under Michigan's law, even if the dog has never bitten anyone or acted aggressively before, as long as:

  • the injured person did not provoke the dog, and
  • the injured person had a lawful right to be in the location where the bite occurred.

But note that in order for this law to apply, the injury must be due to a dog bite, not some other dog behavior. For instance, suppose you are on a public sidewalk when a large dog races out of its owner's yard and jumps on you, knocking you down and causing injury. Because you were not injured by a bite, Michigan's dog bite statute won't apply to your case. However, you may still be able to hold the dog's owner liable for negligence if he or she did not use reasonable care in controlling the dog.

Learn more about strict liability and other fault rules in dog bite cases.

Potential Defenses to Dog Owner Liability in Michigan

A dog owner in Michigan can rely on a number of possible defenses when faced with a personal injury lawsuit over bites and other injuries caused by their animal. Two potential defenses can be found between the lines of a reading of MCL section 287.351 itself.

First, if the person who was bitten provoked the dog, the owner might not be liable for the claimant's medical bills and other damages stemming from the incident.

Second, if the person who was bitten was not on public property and was not "lawfully" on private property (if the person was trespassing at the time of the bite, in other words), a dog bite lawsuit may not succeed.

Whether as an animal owner or as someone who has suffered a bite or other injury, if you find yourself on either side of a case like this, it may be time to discuss your situation with a personal injury lawyer.

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