Michigan Dog Bite Law – MCL 287.351
Getting attacked by a dog is a very frightening experience. The feeling of fear and helplessness can be terrifying. The Michigan dog bite lawyers at our firm have helped our clients recover from these traumatic and life altering events.
Typically, if a dog bite occurs, a person can file a claim against the dog owner for compensation stemming from the attack. The claim can encompass recovery for lost wages, medical bills, scarring and the emotional damage caused by the attack. Under the Michigan dog bite law, MCL 287.351, dog owners are strictly liable for any damages suffered by the person bitten, so long as that person (1) did not provoke the bite, and (2) did not trespass onto private property or the property owner of the dog.
Most defendants in dog bite cases in Michigan will allege the first defense, provocation. In Michigan dog bite law, provocation has never been explicitly defined by case law and it is not defined by statute. However, typically provision entails an affirmative act by an individual that instigates an angry reaction from a dog. Further, the dog’s response must be proportional to the dog bite victim’s act.
The second defense, trespass, is not something that is regularly litigated in Michigan dog bite cases. However, this month, a case involving an Oakland County Michigan man was ruled upon by the Michigan Court of Appeals. In Cummings v. Girtman, (docket no. 334015, unpublished 12/12/17), a man placed his hand on a fence that separated his niece’s backyard and the defendant dog owner’s backyard. While a portion of his hand extended over the defendant’s backward, the defendant’s dog bit him.
The man sued the dog owner for injuries he sustained from the dog bite attack. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the case, alleging that placing his hand over the fence made the plaintiff a trespasser. The trial court judge in Oakland County agreed and dismissed the case. The plaintiff appealed.
In a unanimous ruling, the Michigan Court of Appeals held the man was indeed trespassing. Even though the plaintiff had not actually set foot on the defendant dog owner’s property, simply placing his hand over the fence and protruding into the defendant’s backyard was enough to qualify as a trespasser. In this case, the dog did not jump over the fence and bite the plaintiff while he was lawfully in his niece’s backward.
The Court did state that if the plaintiff had gained even implied consent from the defendant dog owner to enter the land, he would not have been deemed a trespasser. However, no such consent was granted, either expressly made or implied. Therefore, the trial judge was correct in dismissing the case.
This ruling is interesting because it seems to extend the trespassing defense past its usual boundaries. I have been litigating dog bite cases for over a decade and I have never seen a defendant’s insurance carrier (the people who actually defend dog bite claims for dog owners) argue the trespassing defense in the way it was utilized in the Cummings case. Trespassing usually entails what one might think it would – a person walks onto another man’s property without permission and gets bit by the family dog guarding the property.
I expect this case to be utilized by Michigan dog owners in the future when defending Michigan dog bite claims.
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