Dogs generally bite people they don’t know or are afraid of, especially when they are defending what they regard as their territory, or their owner(s). Dog bites more rarely involve small children or babies and if they do it’s a predator prey response.
Dogs cannot be blamed for behaving as nature intended. However, unprovoked dog attacks must be prevented at all costs and if they occur then it is the dog owner who may be at fault.
Dog bite laws across the country vary somewhat but have consistently become more focused on making the dog owner more responsible for his or her dog’s behavior.
Michigan’s dog bite law falls into the ‘more responsible’ category. That means that the dog’s owner is ‘strictly liable’ for any injuries caused by the dog, even if the owner claims that the dog has never behaved like that before. In some other states, the dog’s owner may evade liability if the dog has not been known to be aggressive beforehand, this more lenient legislation is often called a ‘one bite law’ because the owner only becomes liable if the dog has been known to have bitten or attacked someone at least once before.
When Michigan dog owners are not liable for a dog bite
The strict liability statute is only valid if the dog is on public property, like a sidewalk, beach or park or the attack takes place on private property but the person attacked is there legally, i.e. has been invited by the owner of the property. If someone enters a person’s property without permission and is attacked, this would normally mean the owner was not liable. This applies to the casual arrival as well as someone intending criminal activity such as a thief.
The strict liability law also does not cover a dog attack if the dog is provoked, although what actually constitutes “provoked” may be a matter of considerable argument. If you are attacked by a dog in a public place like a park and the dog owner argues that you provoked the dog, you will need to get the help of a dog bite attorney to help with a personal injury claim if you believe the dog was dangerous and should have been constrained.
When are service dogs not service dogs?
The dog’s owner may not be considered liable if the dog is regarded as a ‘service dog’. Service dogs are dogs that are trained to look after, or accompany, people that have specific disabilities, especially blindness or confinement to a wheelchair.
Service dogs are specially trained to behave themselves and are genuinely not aggressive. It can take two years to train a service dog and may cost the owner upwards of $40,000 for the training.
The problem with this is that too many people have been pretending their dog is a service dog and fitting it with a vest. This behavior has been compared to putting a disabled sticker in the windscreen of your car in order to take advantage of a disabled parking space. Several states (19 to date) have enacted laws prohibiting this behavior with fines of up to $500 for a transgression, but the laws are hard to enforce as there is no state or national register of service dogs.
Get legal representation if bitten by a dog
Dog attacks can be very serious. Michigan’s dog bite laws put the dog owner firmly in the position of responsibility but there are sufficient gray areas to make an owner admit liability. If you, or a member of your family, have been attacked by a dog and were injured, contact a personal injury attorney at Abood Law in either East Lansing or Birmingham. You can contact the office at 517.332.5900 (East Lansing office) or 248.549.0000 (Birmingham office).