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Know the Law: Dog Law Basics

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Know the Law: Dog Law Basics
Posted at 10:41 AM, Oct 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-18 10:41:10-04

Between the extended warm weather and the way our lives have changed these past 18 months and more people tend to be out walking, one thing is for certain: dogs are everywhere.

Grand Rapids personal injury lawyer, Tom Sinas, is taking the opportunity to review basic legal rules regarding dog ownership, such as Michigan’s dog leash laws and what happens in instances of dog bites and attacks.

For over 100 years, Michigan has had a state statute for dog ownership that requires two things: any dog that's six months or older must be licensed, and the dog must be leashed in public.

Other than the state law, there are also rules for different cities that must be followed such as how long the dog leash can be and where the dog license must be visible on the animal.

Many states, Michigan included, have a “strict liability” statute that holds the dog owner responsible for injuries if the attack was unprovoked.

If you've been bitten by a dog, Sinas Dramis says you should do the following immediately:

  • Seek medical attention immediately. Dog bite wounds are prone to infection which can exacerbate injuries down the road.
  • Take photos of your injuries as soon as practically possible. Oftentimes medical staff will obtain photos during your care but don’t count on this as an absolute.
  • Contact animal control and file a report. Call local police if your municipality doesn’t have an animal control department.
  • Contact a Michigan personal injury attorney to help determine whether legal action is appropriate.
  • Do not speak with the dog owner’s insurance companies or the dog’s owner before consulting an experienced Michigan dog bite injury lawyer. Your statement might jeopardize a future claim for dog bite damages.

There are four potential ways to bring a dog bite lawsuit in Michigan:

  • Strict liability—If a dog bites a person, the dog’s owner can be held liable for any damages suffered by the victim as long as the victim did not provoke the attack and was legally on the property where the attack occurred. Under this statute, the owner may still be held liable, even if the dog previously displayed good behavior and wasn’t known by the owner to bite. Also, if the dog leaves the owner’s property, the owner may be subject to liability.
  • Negligence—This implies the dog owner owed a legal duty to the victim and the resulting injuries were a breach of that duty and an attack occurred. Negligence usually involves cases where the animal exhibited aggressive traits prior to the attack or the animal was in the owner’s possession long enough to be aware of its predisposition. This can also come with criminal implications. Sometimes an owner can be liable even if the dog knocks a victim down but doesn’t bite during an attack.
  • Trespass—This statute protects victims of dog attacks when the animal went on the property of another without permission.
  • Battery—In rare instances, a battery claim arises when a dog owner uses the animal to intentionally inflict harm on the victim.

As the injured party, Michigan law requires you to prove the following in order to successfully bring a claim against the dog owner:

  1. The dog caused your injuries;
  2. You were in a place you were lawfully allowed to be (not trespassing) and may include the dog owner’s home as long as you had permission to be there;
  3. You did not provoke the dog and cause it to attack and bite;
  4. You are bringing a claim against the dog’s owner, not another person who may have had possession of the dog at the time of the attack but does not legally own the animal.

The only valid defense a defendant may claim is your failure to fulfill these proof requirements. Of these four requirements, the one most commonly litigated over is whether or not the animal was provoked, whether intentional or unintentional.

Because of Michigan’s strict liability when it comes to dog bites and attacks, the best way to protect yourself as a dog owner is making sure the animal is covered under your homeowner or renter’s insurance policy. Whenever adding a dog to your family, make sure to give your insurance agent a call to make sure you’re properly covered.

Learn more by calling Sinas Dramis Law Firm at (616)-301-3333 or visit sinasdramis.com.

Know the Law is sponsored by Sinas Dramis Law Firm. Information is provided by Sinas Dramis Law Firm.