How To Win a Dog Bite Injury Case in Michigan

Man’s best friend is not always worthy of the title. While dogs are lovable in most cases, sometimes they can attack and seriously injure humans. Dog bites are all too common types of injury claims that we see as personal injury lawyers. If you are injured by a dog bite, State laws are going to govern who is liable and what damages you might be able to recover as compensation for the injury. In Michigan, this is no different. Here’s an overview of how to win a dog bite injury case in Michigan.

What Happens in Michigan if a Dog Bites Someone?

Depending on the facts and circumstances of the case, if a dog bites someone in Michigan, the owner is potentially liable for the damages caused by the bite. There are elements that the injured victim must prove in order to recover compensation. If those elements are met and there is no defense under Michigan law, the owner of the dog is typically responsible. In most cases, this liability is covered by general liability coverage in a homeowner’s insurance policy.

What Do You Have to Prove to Win a Dog Bite Claim in Court in Michigan?

Many victims of dog bites wonder if they can sue for a dog bite injury in Michigan. Depending on the facts of the case, the answer is yes. Michigan has a statute that governs dog bite injuries – MCL §287.351 and a number of cases establishing the legal standard to recover. For the injured victim of the dog bite, there a number of elements that must be proven to win their case:

  1. The Defendant owned, possessed or harbored the dog that bit the Plaintiff.
  2. The Plaintiff was lawfully present on the premises where the dog bite happened.
  3. The dog was not provoked by the Plaintiff.

If these elements are proven, the dog owner is strictly liable for injuries caused in Michigan. The Plaintiff would not have to prove negligence or knowledge of the viciousness of the dog so long as they were lawfully present on the premises and did not provoke the dog. For those injured victims who were trespassing or who provoked the dog, these facts serve as a defense for the dog owner to avoid liability.

What Does it Mean to Lawfully Be On The Premises?

There have been a number of cases in Michigan discussing the element required that the injured victim was on the premises lawfully. For example, in Wilson v. Smith, the Michigan Court of Appeals reasoned that in cases where the Plaintiff was on the premises with the owner’s express or implied permission, the element is met. This might include people invited to visit, guests, workers permitted to be there and anyone lawfully present for a legitimate purpose. This may even apply under this case law if the owner previously allowed people to enter the premises without objecting under an implied theory of consent where explicit permission is not necessarily required. Whether or not the Plaintiff was lawfully on the premises is a fact specific inquiry so its best to consult with a personal injury lawyer regarding your case.

When Was a Dog Provoked to Bite in Michigan?

As stated above, if the Plaintiff is found to have provoked the dog prior to bite, the Defendant may have a defense to dog bite liability. Provocation has been discussed by the Michigan Supreme Court in Peariso v. Hinman. The Court held that provocation can be established where the Plaintiff engaged in conduct that “would make it natural for the dog to attack” and are reasonably calculated to cause the dog to bite. The dog’s breed and size are factors to be considered under this analysis on a case-by-case basis but the intent of the Plaintiff is not necessarily determinative. As with any other complex legal standard, a full factual analysis is required and is best handled by an experienced personal injury lawyer.

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About the Authors: Sawan & Sawan is a multi-generational, family owned law firm practicing law in the areas of car accidents, truck accidents, and other personal injury. Our firm practices law in Ohio, Georgia, and Michigan.

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Dennis P. Sawan

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Christopher A. Sawan


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