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Dangerous Dog Law
October 17, 2016
The state of Michigan and every local city and municipality has individual laws governing dogs and their owners. Violations of these laws can lead to a civil lawsuit against the owner, imprisonment of the owner, fines and court costs for the owner, and death of the dog. Hiring an attorney who is familiar with the local laws and ordinances is critical to handling these very delicate measures. Often, there is a victim involved who was bitten by a dog and an owner wanting to protect their animal. Emotions run high when there is threat of euthanizing a dog.
Dangerous Dog Law
In Michigan, the owner of a dog will be held strictly liable for the actions of his dog under Mich. Comp. Laws Ann., Sec. 287.351. A dog owner MUST be held liable when his/her dog bites a human without provocation, provided that the incident happened upon the dog owner’s property and the victim was not a trespasser, or it occurred on public property. Criminal charges for violation of Mich. Comp. Laws Ann., Sec. 287.351 may include imprisonment, probation or parole, fines, and community service, depending on the severity of the violation
If a dog does in fact bite a human in violation of Section 287.351, they will be deemed a “Dangerous Dog” under Mich. Comp. Laws Ann., Sec. 287.231. Owners of "dangerous dogs" may be charged with a felony if the dog attacks another person and causes death or serious injury. In Michigan, if a "dangerous dog" (defined as a dog that bites a person without provocation) kills someone, the owner is guilty of involuntary manslaughter. In 1994, a woman whose two dogs had killed her two-year-old nephew, after she left him alone with the dogs, was sentenced to three years' probation under this law. (People v. Trotter, 209 Mich. App. 244, 530 N.W.2d 516 (1995).
If the dog causes non-serious injury or is "running at large," the owner may be charged with a misdemeanor. "Running at large" refers to an animal not under the control of an owner and not on an owner's premises.
Landlords can also be held liable for the actions of their tenant’s dogs. In Szkodzinski v. Griffin, 171 Mich. App. 711, 431 N.W.2d 51 (1988), a 6-year-old plaintiff was bitten when a dog owned by the defendant's residential tenant attacked him when he entered the premises to retrieve his ball. The court, citing Strunk v.Zoltanki, supra, 62 N.Y.2d 572, 468 N.E.2d 13, 479 N.Y.S.2d 175, stated that the defendant landlord could be held liable if he knew of the dog's vicious nature.
If the dog was provoked, or the victim was illegally trespassing there is case law that may exculpate the dog owner. Nicholes v. Lorenz (Mich. 1976), 237 N.W.2d 468.
If you or someone you know is dealing with a legal issue relating to a dog bite or attack, it is imperative that you seek legal representation from a lawyer familiar with this area of the law. Finding a resolution that can keep someone’s criminal record clean and keep you out of jail may be available.