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Man knocked down by dog(s) cannot sue the owner

Bernard Kibbe filed a lawsuit to recover damages from Jamie Richie (actually, from his homeowner's insurance) after KIbbe was knocked to the ground and suffered injuries while taking care of Richie's home while Richie was out of town.  Kibbe indicated that when he got out of his car, he saw the Richie's three dogs running up the driveway before one of them struck him from behind and knocked him down.  He said he "saw white" as he was knocked down, but could not confirm that it was the white labrador that actually struck the back of his legs.  His attorneys pleaded that the defendants were liable for his injuries because the untethered dogs violated the County Ordinance relating to dogs running loose.

A motion for summary disposition was held and the Emmet County Circuit judge dismissed Kibbe's case.  He ruled that the loose dogs did not violate the Ordinance because the ordinance requires proof that the dogs are "running at large" and Kibbe could not confirm that they were.  Incredibly, the judge also stated that Kibbe could not even prove that he was actually knocked down by the dogs: 

"...reading between the lines, it appears to the Court not only does he not know for sure which dog knocked him down, he doesn't even know for sure if it was a dog that knocked him down.  He's assuming that the dogs knocked him down, but he doesn't really know."  We're guessing that the judge thinks it was equally likely a bear or perhaps a griffin that was running with the dogs and struck Kibbe.  He probably doesn't believe in the admission of circumstantial evidence--even though the Michigan Rules of Evidence and Jury Instructions sanction it.

Even more incredibly, this ruling was upheld by two Court of Appeals judges.  They agreed that the ordinance didn't apply because although it stated that dogs cannot "run at large,"  it didn't explicitly say that a dog may not be "unrestrained at any time."  

This is what passes for Republican "conservative" justice:  interpreting the facts and existing law in the activist manner most beneficial to insurers.  To his credit, Judge Patrick Meter dissented from the appellate decision.  He noted in particular the trial judge's error in assuming that rambunctious dogs must intend harm to exhibit a "dangerous propensity."

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
Toll Free: 1-800-678-1307
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