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. -MCL 287.351(1).
Aside from arguing that the injured party was a trespasser, provocation is the only defense for dog bite claims brought under MCL 287.351. This means that as long as the dog was not provoked, the dog owner is liable for the injuries or damages caused by their dog to a person on public property or who is lawfully on private property. Naturally, the next question becomes, what constitutes provocation sufficient to relieve a dog owner of liability under the law?
Dog Bite - FAST FACTS
- The average cost of a dog bite-related hospital stay is $18,200.
- 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year.
- 1 out of every 5 require medical attention.
- 1,000 citizens each day require emergency medical care for dog bite injuries.
WHAT CONSTITUTES PROVOCATION UNDER MICHIGAN LAW?
The dog bite statute does not define "provocation", however, Michigan courts have issued several decisions which address the defense in Michigan dog bite claims. For instance, in Bradacs v Jiacobone, 244 Mich App 263, 625 NW2d 108 (2001), the Michigan Court of Appeals held that unintentionally dropping a ball near a dog while it was eating did not constitute provocation, thus defendants were not relieved of liability under the statute.
In Brans v Estrom, 266 Mich App 216, 701 NW2d 163, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that even unintentional acts can be sufficiently provocative to relieve a dog owner of liability. In Brans, the plaintiff was assisting the defendant in her yard, when she accidentally stepped back onto the tail of the defendant's dog. The dog yelped and bit plaintiff on her leg.
Plaintiff argued that unintentional acts could not constitute sufficient provocation to relieve the defendant from liability. The Court of Appeals disagreed, looking at the dictionary definition of the word provocation, and noting that it does not take into account the intent of the actor. Rather the definition focuses on the nature of the act itself and the relationship between the act and the outcome.
In Koivisto v Davis, 277 Mich App 492, 745 NW2d 824 (2008), the court addressed whether defending your own pets against a dog attack constituted provocation. In Koivisto, the defendant's dogs escaped and entered onto plaintiff's property and viciously attacked plaintiff's cats. In an effort to save her cats, plaintiff struck the dogs and was bitten. In total, plaintiff suffered 28 puncture wounds to her hands, one of which became infected and resulted in nerve damage.
The court held that plaintiff's conduct did not provoke the dogs, because the dogs were already in an aggressive and vicious state before she made any contact with them. "The provocation defense assumes that the offending dog was not already in a provoked state or, in this case, a state of attack, and that the victim did something to provoke the dog." Id.
Contact Metro Detroit Injury Lawyers
Identifying what does or does not constitute provocation sufficient to relieve the owner of liability is difficult and fact specific. If you have questions about the provocation defense in your potential Michigan dog bite case, contact Metro Detroit Injury Lawyers today. Dogs are wonderful companions and bring joy to people of all ages, but it is important to remember that owning a dog does not come without responsibility.
Metro Detroit Injury Lawyers is a Bloomfield Hills, Michigan law firm practicing personal injury law. Contact us today at 248-430-8929 for a free consultation and evaluation of your case, with no obligation.