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Michigan Dog Bite Injury and Provocation

dog provocation

Do You Have a Michigan Dog Bite Injury Case?

Each year in Michigan, there are hundreds if not thousands of dog attacks that result in personal injury. These cases are governed by statute under the Michigan dog bite law, or MCL 287.351.

The statute is as follows:

287.351 Person bitten by dog; liability of owner

(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 liable for any damages suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.

(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 the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or if the person is on the owner’s property as an invitee or licensee of the person lawfully in possession of the property unless said person has gained lawful entry upon the premises for the purpose of an unlawful or criminal act.

Under the law, a dog owner is strictly liable for any damages their dog causes as a result of a dog bite. The only defenses to this action are (1) trespassing and (2) provocation. So long as the dog bite victim was not trespassing and did not provoke the dog bite, then the victim can obtain compensation for the attack, without regard to fault or negligence.

Provocation Explained

But what does provocation mean in Michigan dog bite cases? When is a dog provoked under Michigan law? The law on provocation is somewhat complicated.

First, the statute does not define “provocation”. Judges cannot easily just refer to a statute or law when reviewing whether or not an attack was provoked. Instead judges throughout the state have taken a multi-varied approach.

First, provocation can include unintentional acts made by a person. For example, if a person is walking backwards and accidentally steps on a dog, causing the dog to bite the person, the dog owner can assert provocation as a defense. Brans v. Extrom, 266 Mich App 216 (2005). So even if you did not intentionally try to provoke the dog, and your actions caused a dog to bite you, the dog owner can assert provocation as a defense if you pursue a Michigan dog bite lawsuit.

In addition, a person cannot provoke a dog that is already provoked. For example, if a dog is fighting another dog, and a person comes in to stop the attack and is bitten, provocation cannot be used as a defense by the dog owner because the dog was already provoked. Koivisto v. Davis, 277 Mich. App 492, 496; 745 NW 2d 824, 827 (2008).

Although the statute does not define what provocation, judges have turned to other resources as a guide in these cases, most notably the good old-fashioned dictionary.

In Brans v. Extrom, the Michigan Court of Appeals referred to Black’s Law Dictionary (4th Ed) in defining provocation. According to the dictionary, provocation is “the act of inciting another to do a particular deed. That which arouses, moves, calls forth, causes, or occasions.” 266 Mich. App 216, 219; 701 N.W. 2d 163 (2005).  In another case, the Court of Appeals referred to a Webster’s dictionary, which defined provocation as “something that provokes, esp. by inciting, instigating, angering, or irritating.” Koisvisto v. Davis, 277 Mich. App 492, 496; 745 NW 2d 824, 827 (2008).

Michigan courts have also ruled that to prove provocation, the defendant must establish the victim commenced a definitive act or actions to incite, instigate or anger the animal and further the dog’s response must be proportional to the victim’s act.  See Bradacs v. Jiacobone, 244 Mich. App 263, 276; 625 N.W. 2d 108 (2001); Palloni v. Smith, 167 Mich. App. 393, 421 N.W. 2d 699 (1988).

So the simple act of petting a dog should not be considered provocation because getting bit by a dog for simply petting the animal is not proportional. However, more aggressive play such as tugging on the dog or pulling at its ears may be considered provocation. Each case is different and judges will make a decision on the provocation defense on a case-by-case basis.

Michigan Dog Bite Lawyers

If you or somebody you know has been attacked and bite by a dog, please call the Michigan dog bite lawyers at the Lee Steinberg Law Firm. The consultation is free and there is no fee unless we win your case. Please call us at 1-800-LEE-FREE (1-800-533-3733) so we may answer your questions and assist you with your case.