Dog Bites

For people attacked by a dog...

Is there any law or regulation that sets the value of a dog bite injury?

There is not any written law or regulation or book that sets the value of a dog bite injury. All settlement or judgment values are determined on a “case-by-case basis.” There are a lot of different factors that influence how much money any one person could or would receive after being bitten by a dog in Michigan. Some of the important factors that go a long way toward determining the value of a dog bite case are the extent and severity of the injury, the actions of the victim immediately preceding the bite, and the skill of the victim’s attorney.

Who pays for a dog bite case?

The answer to this case is “depends.” Most of the cases I have seen include liability against the owner (or keeper) of the dog. In Michigan, two different legal theories can be used to proceed against the owner or keeper of a dog and a “negligence” theory allows victims to proceed against defendants that are not owner/keepers of a dog.

Does a dog bite recovery take money out of the dog owner’s pocket?

If one has been bitten by a dog, and the owner of the dog had liability insurance, there should be no money from the owner’s pocket because of a dog bite settlement or verdict. The insurance company usually covers this sort of loss for the dog owner and usually will pay any award to the bite victim. If a dog owner is uninsured, any settlement or judgment will have to be paid personally, but most times if an owner is uninsured it becomes incredibly difficult if not impossible to collect.

These three things are the key to a “good” dog bite case in Michigan.

There are a lot of people seriously injured from dog bites that do not and will never collect one dime for their injuries. There is a reason. In order to have a good dog bite case, three things usually must be present. First, the dog has to bite the victim in such a manner that the bite is something more than a nuisance. In my judgment, nuisance cases are not going to pay.

Secondly, the victim of the dog bite must not have “provoked” the dog. I think there is enough sympathy for dogs in our society that unless the biting dog is one of the known vicious breeds, or just surprisingly acts out of character and bites, there will be a lot of sympathy for the dog and a tendency for most people to blame the injured victim’s conduct instead of the dog.

Third, in order to make a dog bite profitable, for all practical purposes, there must be some insurance. Otherwise, if one obtains a judgment against a dog owner, I have found, and I think most Michigan attorneys would agree, that most dog owners are uncollectible for a lot of reasons. If there is no insurance available, a lot of dog bite victims are left holding what may be a sizable judgment against a dog owner, but because of collection problems (i.e. the owner does not have any money, or does not work, or assets are titled in a certain way) then for all practical purposes, no money is going to be recovered by the dog bite victim.

Who gets the money if a child is bitten?

In almost all instances, a child that recovers money after being bitten by a dog will have the money set aside in a restricted account until the child reaches 18 years old. The probate court usually appoints a conservator to manage the child’s money, but the money is always going to be the child, not the parents.

In my practice, I see so many children bitten. I think that’s because children tend to get closer to dogs and oftentimes put their face near a dog’s face, and bad things can happen. I also think dogs seem to be less intimidated by children and so children seem to get bitten more.

Is it true it has to be shown that a dog has a vicious nature before a recovery can be garnered after being bitten by a dog?

No. We have a dog bite statute in Michigan at MCL 287.351 which provides for strict liability against the owner of the dog. That means that if the dog is normally gentle, or a dog bites out of its character, the owner of the dog is still responsible under this statute. However, this statute only provides a remedy against the “owner” of the dog. Furthermore, under the statute, if the biting victim has “provoked” the dog, recovery may be precluded.

Is the owner of the dog the only person responsible for a dog bite?

No, we have a “common law” theory in Michigan that may hold a person in temporary control of a dog responsible for injuries caused by the dog. Under this theory, there would be a right to proceed against a dog’s caretaker or babysitter. However, under this theory, to be held liable the person in control of the dog must know of the dog’s vicious nature.

There is also a negligence cause of action for a dog bite if the caretaker of the dog exercises “ineffective control” of an animal. Under this legal theory, a person who undertakes to care for an animal, even temporarily, must discharge the duty of care with ordinary care under the circumstances. Under this liability theory, is not a requirement that the defendant knew of the dog’s vicious nature, rather, the focus is whether the defendant exercised ineffective control of an animal in a situation where it would reasonably be expected that a dog bite injury could occur. If necessary, a jury would decide whether the care of the dog was “reasonable under the circumstances.”