Personal Injury

How to Determine Liability After a Dog Bite?

Dog Bite Owner Liability

What responsibility does a dog owner have to keep others from getting bit? How is liability determined?

Even the President of the United States – Joe Biden – has trouble with the family pet biting.

In a recent incident, Biden’s 3-year-old adopted German Shepard bit a Secret Service member. The dog was removed from the White House and returned to their home in Delaware. 

Let’s breakdown, according to Michigan Laws, what is the dog owner’s responsibility to keep people safe from dog bites and what people need to remember when approaching a home or person that has a dog they don’t know.

A Michigan Dog Bite Attorney and His Family of Dogs

Above is a picture of a member of my family, Nigel. My family is considered a crazy dog family. At this time, four dogs of various breeds and sizes are considered members of our family.  On a recent vacation with my wife’s family, our group of humans totaled 15, while the number of dogs totaled 12. With that many dogs in the family, there are many pluses and very few negatives. 

Nigel The Dog Gets into Trouble

Two events involving my dog Nigel come to mind out over the years.  The first event happened on Christmas morning when Nigel was still a puppy.  I was bringing him home from my in-law’s house; it is a family tradition to stay overnight.  When I pulled into the driveway and opened the door to let him, the next-door neighbors were putting presents inside their car. In a flash, Nigel bounded across the yard to say “hello”.  Before I could get even halfway across the yard, Nigel had noticed the smell of bacon coming from my neighbor’s home, and a door was left open.  In an instant, he was inside the neighbor’s house, wagging his tail and wishing the neighbors, their family, and their children, “a Merry Christmas!”.  As I approached the door, I could hear laughter emanating from most of the guests. One person took exception, my neighbor’s wife who had a few un-Christmas-like words for me and my puppy.  I am amazed to this day how fast he was able to get into the house.

The Dog Bites the UPS Driver

Several years later on Christmas Eve in the same neighborhood, an incident occurred between my wife, my dog Nigel, and a substitute UPS driver.  On this very hectic morning getting ready for the Christmas celebrations, the UPS driver was delivering a package. Digressing, my HOA did not allow fencing unless you had a pool, so we had an underground pet fence.  The UPS driver broke protocol and went into my garage to deliver the package.  He also proceeded to knock on the inner door which led directly into my kitchen. Believing that her sister was at the inner door (does a stranger go into an unfamiliar garage?), my wife opened the door and screamed upon seeing a shadowy unknown man at the door.  Upon hearing the scream, Nigel came to her rescue charging out the screen door. Nigel circled the UPS driver like a shark. After a few kicks by the UPS driver at Nigel, Nigel proceeded to bite the UPS driver in his buttocks.

Luckily for all, a bite mark on the buttocks was the only damage.

Many Clients Have Long Lasting Trauma from Dog Bites

However many of my clients who are attacked by a dog are not so lucky as the UPS man; many live forever with their physical and mental scars from such a shocking event.  Learn how Giroux Pappas Trial Attorneys helped this nurse when her family was attacked while out walking. Click Here to View Her Story.

Dog Bite Claims in Michigan

Dog claims generally fall into categories: Strict Liability and Common Law.

  1. Under Michigan Law MCL 287.351, strict liability occurs when a person is bitten by a dog.  The theory of strict liability is used in connection with pets that bite or attack. The reason for strict liability is that animals do not have a conscience, and those who choose to keep them as pets have a duty to restrain them to avoid harm to others. The liability for the bite falls on the owner of the dog. There are only two defenses that can absolve a dog owner of strict liability: Provocation, which can be intentional or unintentional, and Trespass. Provocation occurs when a person’s actions immediately cause a radical change in the dog’s behavior such as grabbing a dog by the tailor pulling on a dog’s hair. As for trespass, if you come onto another person’s property without permission, you are for the most part fair game for the dog.
  • Common-Law claims occur when there is no indication of a bite. Years ago, I represented a woman whose face was severely scarred when a large dog’s paw caught her in the face.  The dog was not acting with malice, just happy to see this woman.  Under the common law theory, you are required to show that the dog had a propensity for violence.  Essentially the attorney has to prove that the dog has a history of dog bites, dog attacks, or other ill-tempered behavior.  A common law claim can be difficult to prove if the dog in question has not had any contact with Animal Control. 

An Experienced Dog Bite Attorney Understands How to Investigate the Case

In order to investigate this type of claim, it is important to choose an attorney who knows how to dig for the truth. This can mean:

  • spending time interviewing neighbors,
  • investigating the owner of the dog,
  • sending a request for records to multiple Animal Control Departments in multiple jurisdictions, or even
  • looking at homeowner associations apps for posts regarding that particular dog owner or the dog, 

In a recent case, I found evidence on a homeowner’s association app that the dog in question enjoyed escaping the yard and wandering the neighborhood on a number of occasions.  City Ordinances can also be a valuable tool in dog cases.  Many of the ordinances require a dog to be properly restrained which can also be an avenue for recovery in a non-bite dog attack.

Protecting Your Family Against Dog Bites

Giroux Pappas Trial Attorneys goes the extra mile to meet you where you need us, whether that’s in your home, at an office, or elsewhere. We take the time to understand each small detail of your case so that we can give you the best recommendations and educate a jury in your favor.

If You or a Loved One Suffered Dog Bites

Unfortunately, sometimes all the precautions in the world aren’t enough. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury due to a dog attack, you do not have to suffer because of an owner’s negligence.

The dog bite attorneys at Giroux Pappas Trial Attorneys go the extra mile to meet you where you need us. Our firm is founded on the principles of hard work and focus on the details. If you need to speak with an attorney about your options, schedule your free consultation today.

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Evan Pappas

Evan Pappas's Bio

Evan Pappas is passionate about helping people that may have been injured in an accident; auto, trucking, motorcycle, medical negligence, police brutality, sex abuse and assault and others.