How Is a Dog Bite Case Litigated in Michigan?

Michigan has a specific set of personal injury laws addressing dog bite incidents, especially pertaining to liability. In today’s blog, we will review the elements of a dog bite case in Michigan, the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit, and the state’s strict liability rules for dog owners.

Michigan’s Dog Bite Laws

What Are the Elements of a Dog Bite?

Michigan is one of several states with a specific statute addressing dog bites. In Michigan, to prove that a dog owner is liable under the state’s dog bite law, the person who was injured (bitten) must show that:

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

Note that a person is lawfully on the private property of the owner of the dog if the person is on the owner's property in the performance of any duty or if they are on the owner's property as an invitee or licensee of the person lawfully in possession of the property.

Be aware that in order to qualify for the state’s dog bite laws, the injury must be due to a dog bite and not some other dog behavior. For instance, if 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, Michigan’s dog bite statute will not apply because you were not injured by a bite. (In such a case, though, you may be able to hold the dog's owner liable for negligence if they did not use reasonable care in controlling the dog).

If the above criteria of a dog bite are met, 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. That is, a dog’s previous “good behavior” is not a valid defense, which we will discuss below.

Strict Liability for Owners

Different states have different ways of handling dog bite cases, particularly either in the frame of negligence or strict liability. In Michigan, dog bite cases are based on "strict liability,” which means that the owner of the biting dog cannot escape liability by claiming they did not have any warning that the dog was dangerous or likely to bite. If the dog bites a person, the owner is strictly liable, even if the dog has never bitten anyone or acted aggressively before.

However, do note that Michigan uses a strict liability rule for dog bites but a negligence rule for other kinds of dog-related injuries. For example, if an individual is bitten by a neighbor's dog while in their own yard, the strict liability rule applies, but if they are knocked down by a neighbor's dog while in their own yard, the negligence rule applies.

Statute of Limitations

A “statute of limitations” sets a deadline for bringing a personal injury case to court, which includes a dog bite case. In Michigan, individuals have 3 years from the date of the bite to file a lawsuit. If they do not file their case within 3 years, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear the case at all. As a result, it is important to know when the 3-year window closes so you can file your claim before that deadline passes. Otherwise, you will not be able to seek the damages you may deserve.

Let a Lawyer Help You Seek Damages

If you have been injured by a dog bite and seek to recover damages for the injury, speak to a Michigan attorney immediately for legal support. It is important that you contact a lawyer as soon as possible, because the sooner you take legal action the less you will need to worry about the statute of limitations for filing. In most cases, as long as you can prove the dog bite, the owner will be liable for damages due to Michigan’s strict liability rule. Our team at White Law PLLC can take a better look at your case and help you determine next steps in the legal process.

Schedule a consultation with our firm today about your dog bite case.