Dog Bite Cases

In Michigan, dog bite cases are sometimes addressed through civil law proceedings, criminal prosecutions, or both.

Civil Dog Bite Cases

In order for the Plaintiff (injured party) to prevail on a civil lawsuit, generally 4 things need to be proven in order to collect a judgment:

1) Injury.  Dog bite can cause serious injuries, minor injuries, scarring, nerve damage, infection, discomfort, and psychological injuries.  Dog bites can lead to medical procedures to treat the wound, infection, and to cosmetically try to repair the appearance of the skin and scarring.

2) The Plaintiff must either be in a public place or lawfully on private property when the dig bite occurred.  According to Michigan Compiled Law 287.351(2) a person is lawfully on the private property of the owner of the dog within the meaning of this act if the person is on the owner’s property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him or her by law or postal regulation, or if the person is on the owner’s property as an invitee or licensee of the person in lawful possession of the property unless said person has gained lawful entry upon the premises for the purpose of an unlawful or criminal act.  Thus, the owner of a guard dog that bites a robber is generally not liable.

3) The Plaintiff must not have provoked the dog.  The question often asked here: would the act committed caused a regular dog to bite?

4) Ownership.  The Plaintiff must establish that the Defendant (the person being sued) is the owner of the dog.

You do not need to prove the dog was vicious, or that the dog owner knowledge if the the dog is vicious.  Michigan Compiled Law 287.351 provides that (1) if a dog bites a person, without provocation while the person is on public property, or lawfully on private property, including the property of the owner of the dog, the owner of the dog shall be responsible for any damages suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of the viciousness.

A lawyer contacted by a dog bite victim will generally consider 3 issues in determining whether or not to pursue the case: the extent of the injury that occurred; whether or not their is a viable defense to the case (such as provocation, the dog bite victim was trespassing, etc.); and whether or not the dog owner is collectable.  In many instances the dog owner will have home owner’s insurance that will provide legal representation for the dog owner and money to pay a judgment.  Often, resolutions can be reached by your lawyer and the insurance company/defense lawyer to settle the case.  Sometimes, the issue can be only resolved through a trial.

Sometimes the home owner and/or insurance company will reach out to the dog bite victim to try and reach a settlement.  In most instances it is advisable to consult with an experienced lawyer first.  The person bitten is often not experienced to know the dollar value of a particular claim, including pain and suffering, and the amount of any necessary surgery to cosmetically repair the injury in the future.  Often elective surgical procedures such as cosmetic surgery are not covered by your health insurance provider.

If your child was the victim of a dog bite, a parent or guardian can represent their interest.  Depending upon the amount of the case, the dog bite victim’s lawyer will have a parent or guardian named as “next friend”.  Depending upon the resolution, a probate judge may need to approve of the resolution. These formalities area rather easy, and should not discourage you from taking legal action.

If you or a loved one was bitten by a dog, it is important to help your lawyer to get the best result.  Take photographs immediate, and through the different stages of healing.  Provide your lawyer with all medical records.  Seek medical attention immediately.  Obtain psychological counseling if necessary.  Consult with your lawyer early and as often as necessary.

It is advisable for any pet owner to have sufficient home insurance to protect you from any losses from a dog bite.  Without having sufficient insurance, your personal assets are at risk with a dog bite case.

With any dog bite, litigation is always a potential outcome.  It is important to seek experienced legal representation no matter what side of the equation you are on.  Contact the lawyers at Hilf & Hilf, PLC today.

Criminal Dog Bite Prosecution

Criminal prosecutions case occur at the State level, or by a local or city attorney.  Possible misdemeanor criminal prosecutions related to dog bites include, violations of leash laws (MCL 287.262), violations of the licensing of dogs (MCL 287.262), allowing the dog to roam free. Pursuant to MCL 287.323(3) if the owner of an animal that is previously adjudicated to be a dangerous animal allows the animal to run at large, the owner is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 90 days, a fine of not less than $250.00 nor more than $500.00, or community service for not less than 240 hours, or any combination of these penalties.  Local laws concerning violations related to dog bites vary, and sometimes differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  Misdemeanor charges are lower live criminal charges, for which obtaining legal representation is advisable.

A dog bite can sometimes result in a serious felony charge for the dog’s owner.  Felony charges are the highest level criminal charges that always require experienced legal representation.  When the death of a person occurs, under some circumstances the prosecution could even seek murder charges.

Pursuant to MCL 287.323(1) The owner of an animal that meets the definition of a dangerous animal that causes the death of a person is guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Pursuant to MCL 287.323(2) if an animal that meets the definition of a dangerous animal attacks a person and causes serious injury other than death, the owner of the animal is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 4 years, a fine of not less than $2,000.00, or community service work for not less than 240 hours, or a combination of these penalties.

What constitutes a “dangerous animal”.  According to MCL 287.321, a “dangerous animal” means a dog or other animal that bites or attacks a person, or a dog that bites or attacks and causes serious injury or death to another dog while the other dog is on the property or under the control of its owner.  However, a dangerous animal does not include any of the following: (i) an animal that bites or attacks a person who is knowingly trespassing on the property of the animal’s owner.  (ii) An animal that bites or attacks a person who provokes or torments the animal. (iii) An animal that is responding in a manner that an ordinary and reasonable person would conclude was designated to protect a person if that person is engaged in a lawful activity or is the subject of an assault.

As part of a criminal case, the victim of a dog bite can recover restitution for medical bills and missed work from the Defendant.  Restitution, however, does not include compensation for pain and suffering.  A dog bite victim should seek, but not solely rely on the criminal justice system for compensation.

Other Potential Penalties That Could Affect Your Rights As A Dog Owner:

Show cause hearing.  Pursuant to MCL 287.322(1) upon a sworn complaint that an animal is dangerous and that the animal has caused serious injury or death to a person or has caused serious injury or death to a dog, a district court magistrate, district court, or municipal court shall issue a summons to the owner ordering him to appear to show cause why the animal should not be destroyed.

Removal of Dog, Vaccination, and License.  Pursuant to MCL 287.322(2) upon filing the sworn complaint as described about the court or magistrate shall order the owner to immediately turn the animal over to a proper animal control authority, an incorporated humane society, a licensed veterinarian, or a boarding kennel, at the owner’s option, to be retained by them until a hearing is held and a decision is made for the disposition of the animal.  The owner shall notify the person who retains the animal under this section of the complaint and order.  The expense of the boarding and retention of the animal is to be borne by the owner.  Then animal shall not be returned to the owner until it has a current rabies vaccination and a license as required by law.

Court Hearing.  Pursuant to MCL 287.322(3) after the hearing, the magistrate or court shall order the destruction of the animal, at the expense of the owner of the animal, if the animal is found to be a dangerous animal that caused serious injury or death to a person or a dog.  After a hearing, the court may order the destruction of the animal, at the expense of the owner, if the court finds that the animal is a dangerous animal that did not cause serious injury or death to a person but is likely in the future to cause serious injury or death to a person or in the past has been adjudicated a dangerous animal.

The magistrate or court would order the owner of the dog to take one or more of the following steps as well at the owners expense ‘s the dog is determined to be a “dangerous animal” and it is not destroyed: tattooing of dog with identification number, (pursuant to MCL 287.322(4)(a)),  obtain escape proof fencing or enclosure (pursuant to MCL 287.322(4)(b)), sterilization of the dog (pursuant to MCL 287.322(4)(c)), maintain liability insurance (pursuant to MCL 287.322(4)(d)), and/or any other action appropriate to protect the public (pursuant to MCL 287.322(4)(e)).

For experienced legal representation concerning dog bite cases, criminal defense, or pet ownership issues call Hilf & Hilf, PLC today for your best defense.

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