St. Joseph Michigan Criminal Defense Blog

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Is Your Dog’s Bite Your Crime?

Dog bite cases

Michigan has a statute making it a crime, even a felony in some circumstances, for your dog to bite someone. Another statute says that you are liable for the damages of that bite even if you did not know your dog was dangerous.

But a recent Court of Appeals decision does cut dog owners a little slack. The court said that to be criminally liable, the owner had to know ahead of time that the dog was dangerous, or there had to be a previous court determination the dog was dangerous.

Also, the dog still has to be dangerous at the time of the attack. This seems obvious, but a dog is not considered dangerous if the person the dog bites:

  • Is knowingly trespassing on the dog owner’s property
  • Is provoking or tormenting the animal, or
  • Is protecting a person acting lawfully or who is the subject of an assault.

Interestingly, even though the dog in question was a rescued pit bull, the court did not raise the question of breed. Instead its decision addresses the violent or dangerous tendencies of the particular animal regardless of breed stereotypes.

Nor is it enough for the person to reasonably have known the animal’s violent nature. It is not enough to infer the danger from the breed or background of the animal. The court’s opinion requires the prosecution to demonstrate that the defendant had actual knowledge that the particular dog was dangerous.

All together, this means that dog owners who don’t have specific knowledge that their dogs are dangerous will not face criminal charges as the result of a dog bite (unless a court has previously found it to be dangerous). But that same owner will still have to pay for any damage the dog did with the bite.

*Please note: Every case is different, and there may be some aspect of your particular case which may result in an outcome other than is described above. This post is not intended as legal advice and may not apply to your particular case. It is always best to contact our office for a consultation if you have been or believe you may be charged with a crime.

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