Michigan Dog Bite Lawyers

Dog bites can range from a playful nip to an injury severe enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room. If you're in Michigan and you've been attacked by a dog, an overview of the state's dog bite laws can help you figure out what to do next.

Table of Contents

What are Michigan's Laws about Dog Bites and Leashes? What Do They Cover?

It's easy to discount the severity of dog bites, but the statistics can be alarming. Each year, some 4.5 million dog bites happen in the United States. Of those, 800,000 require medical care

Since these bites can be severe (and the recovery costly), Michigan has legislation to protect dog bite victims. In most cases, Michigan dog bite law holds dog owners liable for their animal's behavior, particularly if the bite results in serious injury. 

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Strict liability, or accountability regardless of intent, recklessness, or negligence, applies if the case meets three conditions: 

  1. The victim of the dog bite did not provoke the dog before the attack occurred;
  2. The dog bite happened on public property (e.g., not as a result of trespassing on private property); or
  3. The dog bite occurred on private property, but the victim had a right to be there. 

If these three conditions are met, the dog owner is considered responsible. If these three conditions are not met, a liability defense could be asserted — and the case could result in a lawsuit to determine who is responsible for the injuries and damages caused by the attack. 

Michigan has had a Leash Law in effect for almost a century to reduce the likelihood of dog bites. According to a study by the American Veterinary Medical Association, less than half a percent of fatal dog bites were caused by leashed dogs. The study adds to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that leash laws work.

Michigan's Leash Law states that:

  • Dogs six months and older need to be licensed
  • Dogs six months and older need to wear a tagged collar at all times (with specific exceptions, e.g., lawful hunting)
  • Female dogs in heat need to be leashed when not on their owner's premises
  • No one other than the owner of a dog can remove a dog's tag
  • No dog is allowed to roam freely without a leash

The law does provide for specific unleashed dogs in working scenarios, such as leader dogs, guard dogs, farm dogs, and hunting dogs. In the majority of public dog bite scenarios, however, Michigan's Leash Law provides an avenue for demonstrating liability.

How Many People Get Bitten Each Year? Relevant Statistics

Almost 70 million United States households own at least one dog. A 2019 study published by the National Institutes for Health (NIH) concluded that there are approximately 4.5 million dog bite victims every calendar year. 

A separate NIH study from the same year looked at the 800,000 dog victims sent to medical providers each year for dog bites and found some important demographic and statistical trends. For example: 

  • Dog bites tend to peak during the warmer months, with higher counts of cases occurring in May through August of any given year.
  • Dog bites tend to peak on the weekends, with the majority of cases occurring on Saturday and Sunday, and the fewest cases on Wednesday and Thursday. 
  • The severity of a dog bite appears to correlate strongly with the victim's age: Victims younger than age 15 went to the emergency department for a dog bite far more frequently than victims age 20 and up. 
  • Statistically, men are victims of dog bites slightly more frequently than women. 

In addition, some careers are riskier than others. In general, jobs requiring going into another person's private property result in a steeper risk of a dog bite. For this reason, postal workers, handymen, service repair technicians, painters, and other in-home workers may get bitten on a more frequent basis.

Which Dog Breeds Bite Most Often, or Have the Strongest Bite?

While it may seem intuitive that a Doberman poses a more significant risk than a Chihuahua, that isn't always the case. For example, Dachshunds and Chihuahuas actually tend to be more aggressive than their larger peers. 

Dogs That Bite the Most Often 

  • Chihuahuas
  • English Bulldogs
  • Bulldogs
  • Pitbulls
  • German Shepherds
  • Australian Shepherds
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Jack Russell Terriers
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Bull Terriers
  • Pekingese
  • Papillons

Of course, one bite from a very large and strong dog clearly constitutes more of a risk than a bite from a five-pound Chihuahua. For context: 

Dogs That Have the Strongest Bite Force (In PSI, or Pound-Force per Square Inch) 

  • Kangal - 743 PSI
  • American Bandogge - 731 PSI
  • Cane Corso - 700 PSI
  • Dogue De Bordeaux - 556 PSI
  • Tosa Inu - 556 PSI
  • English Mastiff - 556 PSI
  • Dogo Canario - 540 PSI
  • Dogo Argentino - 500 PSI
  • Wolfdog - 406 PSI
  • Leonberger - 399 PSI
  • Akita Inu - 350-400 PSI
  • Rottweiler - 328 PSI

What do these numbers mean?

  • PSIs are a common measure of pressure. (Example: PSIs are commonly used to measure care tire pressure.) 
  • Researchers use a dog's skull shape, breed size, and the types of items a dog will usually bite down on (e.g., a toy vs. a human hand) to place dogs in different PSI categories. 
  • Researchers in veterinary or research settings can also use specific bite force recording devices to gain precise measurements of a typical dog bite.

(To provide a little more context to those PSI rankings, we'll note that a human's bite force is approximately 162 PSI, making a Kangal's 743 PSI bite terrifyingly impressive.)

A meta-analysis of the research published in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology found that the following breeds were responsible for the majority of reported dog bites—that is, dog bites that were severe enough to require medical attention:

  • Pitbulls: 22.5%
  • Mixed breeds: 21.2%
  • German Shepherds: 17.8%

Where Dog Bites Typically Occur (Anatomically and Geographically)

According to the NIH: 

  • The most common anatomic location of a dog bite is the arm or hand, followed by the head, neck, leg, and foot. 
  • By far, the most common location of dog bites for victims of all ages is at home—whether the victim's own home or the dog's.

Dog Psychology 101: Why do Dogs Bite? 

There are several reasons a dog might become aggressive and even bite:

Territorial Aggression

If a dog believes that an intruder—a human or another animal—is intruding on its territory, it may attack in defense of its space. This type of aggression is more common among mature dogs. Puppies are rarely territorially aggressive. 

Fear

If a dog believes it is trapped or cornered, it may lash out at the people in its immediate surroundings out of fear. The bite victim may not be doing anything to intimidate the dog—in fact, they could be attempting to rescue the dog—but the dog misreads the signs and becomes aggressive. 

Protection

If a dog believes that its owner or pack (animal or human) is in danger, it might naturally show more aggressive behavior. Dogs are social and tend to monitor the social dynamics around them quite carefully. For example, a dog that has recently seen its owners welcome a newborn human child into their family may be more protectively aggressive of adult strangers who come into the family's home. 

Redirection

This type of aggression may occur when a dog is focused on one person or animal (protectively or playfully) and another person or animal attempts to interfere. A bite incurred during the breakup of a fight, for instance, is usually the result of redirected aggression. 

Provocation

In some cases, the bite may be a response to external stimuli such as teasing or perceived aggression from a human or another animal. They can even bite when startled. 

Dominance

Dogs may show aggression to cement their social status or to show that they are in charge of a situation. While this may be natural, it can also turn dangerous when a dog attempts to show its dominance over a human being. This type of behavior tends to occur more often in non-neutered or fixed male or female dogs.

Play

For some dogs, biting is a form of play. As with displays of dominance, this may or may not be okay when it takes place between dogs; it's far less okay when a dog bites a human, even in play. 

What to do if a Dog Bites You or a Loved One

The best way to handle a dog bite is to avoid getting bitten in the first place. 

How to Mitigate an Attack

  • First of all, do your best to avoid startling or provoking any dog. Approaching or disturbing an unfamiliar dog may trigger an attack. 
  • If possible, when you are approaching an unfamiliar dog, allow it to get used to you. Remain motionless in its vicinity for a while and allow it to sniff you to learn your scent. 
  • If a dog seems antagonistic, remain as calm as possible. Do not make loud noises or run away. Running will likely make a dog want to chase you.
  • Do not make eye contact with a dog that seems fearful or wary. Some animals interpret eye contact as a sign of aggression.
  • If a dog is attacking you, try to roll yourself into a ball, covering your ears and neck with your arms. Remain motionless.
  • Another option during an attack is to face the dog, stand still, and keep your arms folded across your chest. 
  • Another strategy? Put something between yourself and the dog. A purse or umbrella may distract the dog, particularly if it's too big for it to bite comfortably. 

Once an Attack Has Occurred

  • If you can, immediately document what has happened. If you are too injured or shocked to do so, ask passersby or first responders for assistance. Take pictures of the dog and your injuries. 
  • If the dog's owner is present, ask them whether their dog is up to date on its vaccinations. Get the owner's information for later contact, should that become necessary. 
  • As a general rule, you should seek medical attention within 24 hours of a bite. Even if it doesn't seem serious, it's still in your best interest to get checked out. Your biggest danger is an infection, which doesn't always become obvious until sometime after the bite. Depending on the specific strategy your Michigan dog bite lawyers recommend, having an immediate medical record may also come in handy later. 

The Most Common Types of Dog Bites

Dog bites can result in both physical and mental injuries.

Physical injuries resulting from a dog bite can include:

  • Muscle, tissue, or nerve damage
  • Broken skin (scratches, lacerations, and tears)
  • Broken bones
  • Eye, head, and neck injuries
  • Scarring

Mental injuries resulting from a dog bite can include:

  • Shock and stress
  • Lasting trauma
  • Emotional distress
  • Fear of dogs
  • PTSD

These are not exhaustive lists. If you have sustained pain or injury, whether mental or physical, after a dog bite, reach out to a Michigan dog bite lawyer. 

Should I Call Animal Control? Or the Police?

First things first: If you or a loved one is in immediate danger due to a severe or even life-threatening injury, your first call should be for medical assistance.

Once your injuries have been attended to, you should consider reporting the dog bite to the relevant authorities. Contacting the local police on their non-emergency line is usually the simplest and most direct course, but this may depend on the offices available in your specific area. 

Regardless of who files the report, having an official Animal Control or police report can be a vital piece of information for any later legal action you may pursue. 

Failing to Report a Dog Bite Can Be Detrimental

While it may seem like an overreaction to file a report if you sustained minor injuries or if you know the dog owner, it's usually in the best interest of just about everyone to do so. Consider this: 

  • An official report will likely help you recover damages
  • Failing to file an immediate report will make it easier for your insurance company to deny your claim
  • If you receive medical assistance, your doctors may be required to report the bite anyway
  • You might prevent the same dog from going on to bite another person, perhaps even more severely

Additionally, if the dog happens to have an infection that they pass to you through your bite, promptly reporting the incident becomes a matter of public safety. Don't be tempted not to file; if you contact the police or animal control quickly, it'll likely be an easier and quicker process than you may think. 

Filing a Dog Bite Lawsuit: Considering Your Options

If you're interested in recovering damages related to your dog bite injury, you'll likely need to file a lawsuit. 

When You Can (And Can't) File a Dog Bite Lawsuit

Your Michigan dog bite lawyers will help you assess the specific information in your case to determine whether your suit has a good chance of being successful. 

Two common types of lawsuits that you may be able to file in a dog bite case are negligence claims and wrongful death suits. 

  • Negligence claims: A negligence claim will involve demonstrating that someone else failed to operate with a prudent level of care. 
  • Wrongful death: If you can successfully connect an unfortunate death with the action or inaction of a dog owner, you may be able to pursue compensation. 

Notably, in most cases you can't file a dog bite lawsuit if you've waited too long after the incident. In Michigan, the statute of limitations indicates that you may not be able to recover damages three years after a personal injury. 

Can I Sue if My Dog or Cat Was Bitten by Another Dog?

For many of us, our pets are like family. If your dog or cat has been attacked, you'll probably need to recover damages for its medical care, especially if—as is the case for most of us—you don't have a medical insurance policy for the animal. Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  • If the dog that attacked your dog or cat has a previous record of attacks, it may be easier to recover damages. 
  • If you can demonstrate that the attacking dog was trespassing, that its owner was violating leash laws, or that the dog and owner were violating any other rules, you're more likely to have a successful suit. 

How Do I Pay For My Dog Bite Injuries?

You may be able to recover damages and pursue compensation to help with your recovery, particularly if you can demonstrate that someone else was liable for your injuries. 

Everyone's case is different, but it can be possible to recover tens of thousands of dollars (or more) in damages if your claim is successful.

To learn more about what your dog bite lawsuit could look like, speak with an experienced Michigan dog bite lawyer to discuss your next steps. 

How to Prevent Your Dog From Biting

Dog owners can prevent bites by training their dogs and socializing them from a young age. Puppies should be introduced to people and animals early and often, so they feel more comfortable in varied situations when they are older. Being a responsible pet owner also requires regularly feeding and exercising the dog, neutering or spaying it, keeping it on a leash every time it's out of the home, and following all local laws regarding where their pet can be. 

Contacting a Michigan Dog Bite Lawyer

If you need to pursue compensation to provide care for yourself or a loved one while recuperating from a dog bite injury, you should know that you'll likely enjoy far more success (and less stress) if you work with a professional. Often, you'll find that dog bite lawyers won't charge you anything upfront—or won't charge you until they collect compensation for your case. 

As soon as possible after a dog bite event, seek medical attention and start collecting information about what happened. Then, call in a seasoned, professional Michigan Dog Bite Lawyer to help you work towards a favorable outcome.

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About the Firm

The attorneys of Moss & Colella have carefully chosen their career paths to fight for those that have suffered from injury and wrongful death. We believe every citizen should have the right to hire the best lawyer who will actively advocate for their case.

David Moss and Vince Colella have over 50 collective years of personal injury trial experience that provides you a level of legal services and success unmatched by other firms. By working together, we have the ability to find creative, effective, and efficient solutions to even the most complex cases. No matter what situation you face, we will help you get through it.

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