Are Dog Owners Always Responsible for Dog Bites and Injuries?
For many pet owners, their pets are just like members of the family. They love their animal companions very, very dearly and they don’t want to think they would ever hurt anyone. But as much as we love our pets, even the most well behaved pets are still animals and are therefore prone to behaving like animals. Dog bites are an incredibly common injury. About 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year and over 800,000 of those bites require medical attention. So if your dog bites or otherwise injures a person, are you, the owner, automatically responsible?
In 19 states, the law regarding dog bites is that dogs get “one bite.” This means that owners have the right to assume their dog isn’t dangerous unless it has a history of biting or other aggressive behavior. If it’s the first time a dog has bitten a person, the incident is supposed to put the owner on notice that their dog has aggressive tendencies and they need to exercise extra caution in the future. However, this doesn’t mean that dog owners are free to ignore other, less drastic signs of aggressions like growling; those are actions that should also put a dog owner on notice.
Michigan is not a “one bite” state; it’s what’s known as a “strict liability” state. Under Michigan’s dog bite law, a dog owner can be held responsible for a dog bite, even if it’s the first time a dog has bitten someone, as long as the person was not provoking the dog and the person was either on public property or lawfully on the property where the bite occurred.
Even in “strict liability” states, there are some instances where a dog owner might not be legally responsible for a dog bite such as if the person who was bitten was trespassing on the dog owner’s property. But keep in mind that just because a person wasn’t explicitly invited onto your property, there are many perfectly legal reasons for someone to come onto your property such as to deliver mail or packages, take a survey, or ask for directions.
Owners may also not be responsible if a person provokes the dog, intentionally or not, or is warned about a dog’s dangerous tendencies and doesn’t heed the warning. Another situation where the owner could not be liable for a dog bite is if the person was doing something illegal at the time of the bite. For example, if your dog bites a person who broke into your home, you might be able to claim that the dog was just defending its owner’s property.
However, just because a state has a law regarding dog bites, that doesn’t mean that specific law covers other dog related injuries as well. While Michigan is a “strict liability” state when it comes to dog bites, it’s a “negligence” state for other types of injuries caused by a dog, such as if a dog jumps on you and knocks you over, causing an injury.