Michigan Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

When is the owner liable for dog bite injuries in a personal injury claim or lawsuit in Michigan?

In this article, we'll explore some key points of Michigan dog bite law. First, we'll look at the deadline, or "statute of limitations," for filing a dog bite lawsuit in Michigan's civil court system. Then, we'll look at Michigan's dog bite statute. Finally, we'll examine Michigan's status as a "strict liability" dog bite state and discuss possible defenses a dog owner might raise against a dog bite claim.

Deadlines for Filing a Dog Bite Lawsuit in Michigan

All states have a law known as a "statute of limitations," which sets a deadline for bringing a personal injury case to court (a dog bite case would be considered a personal injury lawsuit). In Michigan, you have  three years  from the date of the bite to file a lawsuit. If you do not file your case within three years, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear the case at all. So, it's important to know when the three-year window closes in your case, and to file your claim before that deadline passes.

Michigan's Dog Bite Statute

Michigan is one of several states that has a specific statute that covers dog bites. In Michigan, dog bites are covered by  MCLA 287.351, which says, in order to prove that a dog owner is liable under Michigan's dog bite law, the person who was bitten must show that:

  • the injury was caused by a bite
  • the person bitten did not provoke the dog, and
  • the person was in a public place or was lawfully in a private place when the bite occurred.

In order for this law to apply, the injury must be due to a dog bite -- not some other dog behavior. For instance, suppose that you are on a public sidewalk one day when a large dog races out of his 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.

Michigan is a "Strict Liability" Dog Bite State

Different states have different ways of handling dog bite cases. Most states fall into one of two categories: "negligence" states and "strict liability" states.

When it comes to dog bites, Michigan is a "strict liability" state. This means that an owner of a biting dog cannot escape liability 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 liable, even if the dog has never bitten anyone or acted aggressively before.

Although Michigan uses a strict liability rule for dog bites, it uses a negligence rule for other kinds of dog-related injuries. So, if you are bitten by a neighbor's dog while in your own yard, the strict liability rule applies, but if you are knocked down by a neighbor's dog while in your own yard, the negligence rule applies.

Defenses to Dog Bite Liability

A dog owner in Michigan generally has two defenses to a dog bite claim: provocation and trespassing.

Michigan's dog bite statute does not apply if the person who was bitten provoked the dog. For instance, a person cannot tease a dog to make it angry, suffer a bite, and then turn around and ask for damages from the dog's owner. Therefore, if a dog's owner can prove that the dog was provoked, he or she may not be liable for the bite injury.

Trespassing can also work as a defense against a dog bite claim. Michigan's dog bite law requires the person bitten either to be on public property or to be "lawfully" on private property. If the person is trespassing, and therefore is not "lawfully" on the property, a dog's owner may not be liable if the dog bites that person.

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