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Dog Bite Injuries

Dog Bite and Uncontrolled Animals

SUMMARY
 

If you or a loved one is injured by a dog bite, you can recover damages if the bite was "unprovoked" or if the animal’s owner does not use "due care" in managing the animal. Allowing an animal to run loose often creates at least a presumption of negligence by its owner. If the owner knows that the animal has a "dangerous propensity" or a history of biting or if the animal has been abused, an injured person is entitled to a presumption of negligence.


Ownership of animals can create legal liability in the owner if someone is injured by the animal. The nature of the liability often depends upon the type of animal and the circumstance of injury.

Dogs

Obviously, man’s "best friend" is also our most common source of animal-related injury. Dog bites are such a frequent source of injury that some of the rules addressing dog bite liability have been codified by statute in Michigan. There are basically two forms of remedy available to someone injured by a dog. First, we have a statute that makes the animal’s owner automatically responsible for any dog bite if the victim did not "provoke" the animal. The concept of "provocation" has been the source of quite a bit of litigation in recent years, with some Defendants attempting to take advantage of insurance-friendly judges to equate provocation with any act by the victim which contributed to "causing" the bite. Under this approach, for example, it has been argued that merely entering the dog’s yard or standing near it with food may constitute "provocation" for a bite: most courts reject such a broad and unlikely approach. The more common interpretation of provocation as a defense looks to inappropriate action by the victim that "caused" the dog to bite: things like twisting the dog’s ears or teasing it.

Where there is no actual "bite" or where there is some form of provocation but there are also extenuating circumstances, we sometimes pursue the dog owner or its possessor on a negligence theory. In these situations, compensation is sought based upon the owner’s or keeper’s failure to exercise due care. Negligence or lack of due care may take the form of harboring a dog with known violent tendencies, or mistreating the dog or failing to comply with leash laws and allowing the animal to run loose, for example. Most Counties have enacted Ordinances against allowing dogs to run loose, and these rules are "evidence" of negligence (which the jury is also free to disregard). We have been successful in a number of cases where overly-friendly and unrestrained dogs have caused significant injury–particularly to elderly folks–when a victim was "knocked down" through exuberant behavior.

Whether the issue is provocation or negligence, we have often found it necessary to rely upon experts who train dogs and their owners to educate the jury.

Other animals

There are other statutes governing the management of large or dangerous animals. For example, just as most counties require that dogs be restrained by a leash, there is a state law that holds owners responsible for large animals running loose. In most cases, these laws, ordinances and regulations merely spell out the common sense obligation to properly maintain and confine these creatures. In almost all circumstances, the owner or keeper will be responsible for an injury if it is caused by some form of "fault" or lack of due care. A simple contrast can be drawn between an animal that is running loose because someone forgot to shut the gate, and an animal that is running loose because lightning dropped a tree on the containing fence. Unfortunately, in our experience, keepers rarely acknowledge a clear responsibility for inadequate enclosures. Again, it is common to enlist the assistance of an experienced person to explain how and why the animal should have been contained.

The owner or keeper’s responsibility will be balanced against the fault of other persons, including the victim and the victim can normally collect only for the proportion of fault that the jury allocates to the defendant. Young children are frequent victims of animal-related injuries and the law can be forgiving of mistakes by children if they are of a tender age.

Statutes of Limitation

Whenever the law grants a right to seek recovery for wrongdoing, it also places restrictions on how long the victim has in which to take legal action. If the victim delays too long in seeking compensation, he is said to have "slept on his rights" and his claim will not be heard. These limits are called "statutes of limitations" and they vary depending on the nature of the wrong that was committed. In many cases, there are other limitations on taking legal action, as well.

If you have suffered a business loss, it is important that you promptly contact a qualified commercial litigation lawyer to investigate your rights so that you do not lose your right to recover damages.

Limitations on Recovery

As in all litigation cases, there are limitations on recovery of which you should be aware. You may read more about these limitations here.

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