Although Michigan has enacted a statute that deals specifically with lawsuits filed by victims of dog bites, the statute does not cover every possible scenario. When the facts of a specific case prevent the victim from suing under the dog bite statute, the victim can sometimes sue under common law principles of civil liability.
Under Michigan’s dog bite statute, a dog bite victim has to prove four elements (under a “more likely than not” standard) to win a personal injury lawsuit:
- The defendant was the owner of the dog in question
- The victim’s injury was caused by the bite
- The victim did not provoke the dog
- The victim was not trespassing on the owner’s property at the time of the bite.
Note that under this statute, the victim can sue only for injuries caused by a bite, not for injuries caused by other dog behavior. Note also that the defendant must be the owner of the dog, not a third party.
If the statute does not apply, under certain circumstances the victim can rely on a legal theory known as “scienter”. If a victim wishes to sue the landlord of an apartment complex for the behavior of a tenant’s dog, for example, the victim will need to prove that the landlord know of the dog’s vicious nature yet nevertheless allowed the tenant to keep the dog.
A dog bite victim might also sue under a theory of common law negligence. To win a personal injury lawsuit based on negligence, you must prove that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care with respect to a dog (by doing something or by failing to do something), and that this failure caused the dog attack. Negligence might be a good theory of liability to use if, for example, the victim was injured when a friendly dog jumped on to the victim and knocked him down a flight of stairs. A negligence theory might also work if the defendant is a dog trainer rather than the owner, since the statute applies only to dog owners.
Negligence Per Se
Many local jurisdictions (city and county governments) have passed their own municipal ordinances addressing dog behavior. If you can prove that the defendant violated one of these ordinances and that your injuries would not have occurred if he had complied with it, you could win your case on a negligence per se theory, because violation of the ordinance is automatically considered negligence. Asserting negligence per se might be a promising line of attack, for example, if you were bitten in public by dog that was unleashed by a temporary “dog sitter” in a city that requires dogs to be leashed in public.
Battery/Assault, with a Deadly Weapon
If the defendant uses his dog as a weapon to intentionally assault you, he can be treated just as if he assaulted you himself – you could likely prevail in a lawsuit against him, and he might also be subject to criminal charges.
Statute of Limitations
In Michigan, you generally have three years from the date of a dog bite to file a lawsuit against the defendant. To get started today, find a Michigan dog bite lawyer.