Q.—Can I sue the owner of a dog that bites me?
A.—Yes. Michigan is a strict liability state. This means that a statute exists that imposes liability on the owner of the dog if all of the following is true:
1. A person was bit by the dog.
2. The injured person was lawfully on the premises (you cannot be a trespasser or otherwise illegally on the premises.
3. The dog was not provoked.
The usual legal concepts such as duty and negligence do not apply to a dog bite under the statute.
Q.—I thought a dog was allowed a “first bite.”
A.—Michigan common law originally stated that the owner of the dog is not responsible, if he did not know about the vicious nature of the dog. Thus a dog would be allowed a “first bite.”(the first bite shows the vicious nature for subsequent bites). The statute clearly states that the owner of a dog is liable for damages “regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.” M.C.L. 287.351
Q.—What if the owner of the dog is a renter. Can I sue the landlord?
A.—There is a case in Michigan in which a landlord was held liable for a dog bite, but common law applies. This means that it would have to be proven that the dog was vicious and the landlord knew of the dog’s vicious nature.
Q.—I need to hire an attorney. What do they charge?
A.—The Michigan Supreme Court has issued a rule that limits the attorney to 33 1/3% of the net recovery. A written contract explaining the full fee is provided at the initial interview.
Q.—If a person is bitten by a dog, what should they do?
A.—First, a police report should be made. The police may hold the dog to verify it does not have rabies. Also, the police will verify information, such as the owner of the dog. Second, try to determine the owner of the dog, and whether or not the owner has homeowner’s insurance that would cover the dog bite. Michigan law is clear that a claim is against the owner of the dog, even if someone is just watching the dog. Finally, it is important to seek medical treatment for any injuries as soon as possible.