Michigan Dog-Bite Laws

Michigan dog owners' liability for bites and other injuries, when owners can face criminal charges, and more.

By , Attorney UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated 2/22/2024

When a dog attacks someone in Michigan, state law determines whether the owner can be held liable for the victim's injuries. In the most serious cases, owners risk losing their dogs and can even face criminal charges. Michigan dog owners should understand how these rules apply to them and their pets. In addition, anyone whose been attacked by a dog in the state should make sure they know their legal options.

Michigan Dog Owners' Liability for Injuries

Michigan has different liability rules depending on whether the victim was bitten or suffered a different kind of injury.

Liability for bites. Michigan's civil code holds owners "strictly liable" when their dogs bite people. Under this strict liability, the owner is automatically legally responsible for bite injuries unless the victim was trespassing or provoked the dog. (See below for more on these potential defenses for an owner).

Michigan's strict liability rule means an owner can't escape liability by claiming they didn't know their dog was dangerous, or by pointing out that they took reasonable precautions to protect people from their pet. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 287.351 (2023).)

Liability for injuries other than bites. Michigan's strict liability rule only applies to bites. But sometimes dogs injure people in other ways—for example, by jumping on someone and knocking them over. In situations like that, there are two ways a victim might be able to recover damages:

Potential Defenses for Dog Owners

Owners who get sued under Michigan's strict liability dog-bite statute can raise two defenses:

  • If a dog bites someone because it was provoked, then the owner won't be held strictly liable for medical bills and other damages stemming from the incident.
  • If a dog bites a trespasser (someone who wasn't invited onto private property and has no legal reason to be there) then strict liability doesn't apply.

(Mich. Comp. Laws § 287.351 (2023).)

Remember that even owners who aren't strictly liable might still be sued for negligence. In a negligence lawsuit, owners can defend themselves by arguing that the victim was partially or completely responsible for their own injuries. Under Michigan law, a victim's compensation in a personal injury case is reduced in proportion to their share of responsibility for the incident.

So, if a judge or jury finds that a dog-attack victim was 25% responsible for causing the incident, the amount of damages the owner has to pay is reduced by 25%. Victims who are more than 50% responsible can still receive compensation for things like their medical bills, but not for any noneconomic damages like their pain and suffering. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.2959 (2023).)

Michigan's Statute of Limitations for Dog-Bite Lawsuits

Laws called "statutes of limitations" impose a deadline on your right to file a civil lawsuit in your state's courts. These deadlines are different depending on what state you're in and what the case is about.

In Michigan, dog-bite lawsuits are covered by the state's statute of limitations for personal injury cases. This generally requires victims to file their complaint within three years of being injured. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.5805(2) (2023).)

Except in very rare situations, missing this deadline means that the victim loses their right to sue the dog owner.

Criminal Penalties and Rules for Dangerous Dogs

In addition to its rules for dog-attack lawsuits, Michigan also has laws addressing when owners can be charged with crimes, when they can be ordered to take steps to protect the public from their dogs, and when their dogs can be euthanized.

Court Hearings and Consequences for Dogs

An owner can be summoned to court for a hearing if someone files a complaint swearing that the dog engaged in behavior including:

  • biting or attacking a person or another dog
  • destroying property, or
  • roaming around off-leash.

At the hearing, the owner has the opportunity to argue on behalf of their pet. The court will then decide, based on the evidence, what will happen to the dog.

Depending on how serious the dog's behavior was, and the likelihood that it will kill or injure someone in the future, the court can order that the dog be euthanized. In less serious cases the owner can be ordered to take steps to protect the public from their pet. Those steps can include installing an escape-proof fence to keep the dog confined and to prevent anyone from entering its enclosure.

An owner who disobeys a court order about their dog can be convicted of a misdemeanor, fined, and even jailed for up to three months.

(Mich. Comp. Laws § 287.286 (2023); Mich. Comp. Laws § 287.286a (2023); Mich. Comp. Laws § 287.322 (2023).)

Criminal Penalties for Owners of Dangerous Dogs

In addition, owners who know their dogs are dangerous risk criminal convictions if their dogs hurt anyone.

A court can find that a dog is dangerous if the evidence at a hearing shows that:

  • the dog bit or attacked a person, or it seriously bitten or attacked another dog in specific circumstances, and
  • there was justification (like provocation or trespassing) for the dog's behavior.

Once a dog has been found dangerous by a court, the owner can be charged with a misdemeanor for a future bite that causes minor injuries to a person.

An owner who knows that their dog is dangerous can face felony charges and very serious criminal penalties—including years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines—if that dog kills or seriously injures someone.

(Mich. Comp. Laws § 287.321 (2023); (Mich. Comp. Laws § 287.323 (2023); People v. Janes, 302 Mich. App. 34 (Mich. Ct. App. 2013).)

Getting Legal Help

Whether you're a dog owner or have been hurt by someone else's pet, it's important to understand how Michigan law applies to you. If you have questions about your situation, consider speaking with an attorney with experience handling cases like yours.

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