Dog bites can cause serious, life-changing injuries. Puncture wounds, scarring, facial scars, infection, and even death can result from a dog attack. These types of injuries often require expensive medical procedures, often including plastic surgery, which result in large medical bills. Dog bites often cause extensive pain and suffering that accompanies a long healing process. People who have been bitten by dogs or other animals may also experience psychological trauma and a lifelong fear of animals.
According to the CDC, approximately 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs every year, and 800,000 of those bites are severe enough to require medical treatment.
With 325.7 million people in the U.S., that means a dog bites approximately 1 out of 69 people annually.
Fifty percent of American children are bitten by a dog before they turn 13.
Every dog, whether big or small, regardless, has the potential to bite. Understanding why dogs bite is a key to protecting yourself and your family, and to prevent injuries from dog bites.
Regardless of the size of the dog, all dogs can bite. But dogs do not bite randomly. Dogs bite in reaction to something.
According to the American Veterinary Association, dogs bite:
Drilling deeper, Certified Professional Dog Trainer Jacque Lynn Schultz has identified different types of aggression in dogs and why they occur.
Dogs nip and bite during play. While this might be fun for the dog, it can be scary and even dangerous for people - especially children, who might not know the warning signs that come before a dog bite.
Many people acquire a dog for protection. But that protection can become a liability when the dog believes the only way to protect its valuables is through an act of aggression.
To a dog, their valuables might include food, toys, territory (a house or car) and even their human family members.
The protection instinct is most common in male guarding and herding breeds, such as German shepherds and rottweilers, while female cocker spaniels and Labrador retrievers can put on ferocious displays over toys and chewies.
Fear aggression is most commonly directed towards strangers. Like people, dogs are naturally afraid of unfamiliar and potentially dangerous situations.
Dogs who live in a quiet adult household may experience fear when placed in a situation involving noisy, running children. Because the dog is experiencing fear of a new situation, the dog might bark and nip to warn the children.
During the first two to three weeks after giving birth, a puppy depends on its mother for all its survival needs: food, warmth, stimulation, and protection. A female dog will display aggression if she feels her puppies are in danger.
To avoid dog bites from a dog mother, be aware of her need for a safe space and limit the number of visitors to one or two adult family members so the dog can stay relaxed and focused on her puppies.
When two or more dogs are barking, posturing, and biting one another, people who reach in to try to stop the altercation are likely to get bit. The dogs are full of adrenaline and will not distinguish between the other dog and human hands trying to break up the fight.
Breaking up a dog fight is best done using loud noises and blasts of water.
If you must lay hands on a fighting dog, do so swiftly and decisively, and stay as far away from the dogs’ mouths as possible.
Members of the dog’s family are most often the victims of dog bites due to dominance aggression. Essentially, the human thinks he or she is in charge, but the human has not earned the right to tell the dog what to do.
Moving the dog off the bed to change the sheets, pushing the dog to ensure compliance with a command to sit, or stepping over a dog resting in the doorway can cause a dog to bark and bite.
Bites due to dominance aggression are seen most commonly in unneutered males and in confident breed types such as rottweilers, chow chows, Lhasa Apsos, English springer spaniels, Old English sheepdogs, and Rhodesian ridgebacks.
Children or adults who do not understand that even the most patient and loving dog has limits may be the victim of a dog bite if they push the dog beyond its limits. Hugging a sleeping dog, blowing in the dog’s face, riding a dog like a pony, poking, prodding, and tickling a dog can all lead a dog to say “No” the only way it knows how - by barking and biting.
If a dog does bite you, push into the dog’s mouth rather than pulling away. When the dog senses that it is no longer in control of the bite, the dog will release and run away.
Unsurprisingly, dogs can bite harder than humans.
The average human bites with 120 pounds of force. A grown man’s bite force can reach as high as 150 pounds of force.
While it is more difficult to measure a dog’s bite force because a dog will not bite as hard every time and because a dog will bite harder when provoked, the average dog bites with 269 pounds of pressure.
The force of a dog’s bite is based on three factors: the size of the dog’s body, the size of the dog’s skull, and the shape of the dog’s jaws. A strong dog’s bite is capable of tearing through flesh and even breaking bones.
Dogs with the largest head and largest jaws will exert the strongest bite force.
Rottweilers had the strongest bite force at 328 pounds of pressure.
German shepherds were second with 238 pounds of pressure, and Pit Bulls were third with 235 pounds of pressure.
When it comes to an injury inflicted by a dog, the breed does not matter. Muth Law has represented victims bitten by nearly every breed of dog, from beloved family pets to junkyard watchdogs. And as any dog lover knows, oftentimes, the owner of the dog dictates the behavior much more than the breed itself.
In 2013 the American Veterinary Medical Association studied fatal dog bites based on law enforcement reports, animal control reports, and investigator statements and found that the most common contributing factors to dog bites were:
The study found that in 80% of the incidents, 4 or more of these factors were present.
The study was not able to reliably identify the likelihood of dog bite by breed, partially because the authors were only able to reliably verify dog breed in 18% of cases.
An earlier study, published in 2000, evaluated 20 years of dog bite statistics in an attempt to correlate dog breed with dog bite related fatalities (DBRF). The authors were unable to evaluate a “risk rate” based on breed. They were able to tabulate the number of fatalities by breed and identified the following dog breeds and the number of fatalities associated with that breed from 1979 to 1998:
The authors went on to evaluate the efficacy of breed-specific legislation and recommended:
If you were bitten by a dog, it is important to treat the injury quickly. This will reduce the risk of infection.
It’s normal to feel shaken up after a dog bite. A dog bite can be a traumatic experience. Depending on the severity of the bite, it is often better to call for help rather than driving yourself to a hospital or emergency room.
Once you have put distance between yourself and the dog and eliminated the immediate threat, determine whether the dog has been inoculated against rabies. Ask the dog owner for the dog’s vaccination history and be sure you have the name and phone number of the dog’s owner and, if possible, the dog’s veterinarian. It is also wise to ask the dog owner for some ID, much the way you would after a car accident.
If the bite did not break the skin, wash the area with warm water and soap and apply an antibacterial ointment to prevent infection.
If the bite did break the skin, again, wash the area with soap and water and apply a clean cloth and pressure to the wound to control or stop the bleeding.
Monitor the bite for signs of infection, which include red, swollen, and warm skin, or if the area becomes tender to the touch.
Contact a doctor immediately if:
If not treated properly, a dog bite can lead to complications such as infection, nerve and muscle damage, and scarring.
Infection. Bacteria, including staphylococcus, pasteurella, and capnocytophaga can live in a dog’s mouth and can lead to infection if the bite breaks the skin.
Broken Bones. A dog bite can result in broken bones, especially if you were bitten on the feet or hands. Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect a broken bone caused by a dog bite.
Rabies. Rabies is a serious viral infection that affects the central nervous system If left untreated it can lead to death within days.
Scarring. When a dog bites through the skin it can result in scarring, especially on the face. Facial scarring from a dog bite may require advanced medical treatment such as skin grafting or plastic surgery.
If you were bitten by a dog and sustained injuries, there are steps you should take to protect yourself and preserve your right to pursue legal action, if you choose to do so. It is easier to have the information required to pursue legal action and decide not to, rather than to not have the information if you later decide that you need to pursue a claim against the dog owner.
If the dog bite is anything more than a minor scratch, you should contact the police and make a report. Having police present on the scene will help calm the situation, and an officer can help you decide whether you need immediate medical attention. Police can also impound the dog if necessary.
If the dog owner is hostile, the police will be able to investigate the dog owner and obtain information that will help you if you need to make a claim. This includes information about the dog owner, as well as an independent, third-party account of what happened. While a police officer might not be able to testify about how the incident occurred, a police report will at least provide an unbiased account of what each party said in the moments after the incident.
Filing a police report also helps state and local authorities enforce dog bite laws and may help prevent future dog bites because the dog that bit you could bite someone else.
Reporting a dog bite will trigger an investigation, and the dog owner may be required to take steps to protect other people from the dog.
A police report can also help you in getting valuable information about the dog’s vaccination history, and information about the owner if you decide to pursue legal action.
In some cases, such as if a dog is being mistreated, filing a report can shed light on the dog’s poor living conditions.
If you are bitten by a dog, no matter how minor the bite seems, start taking photos immediately. Take photos of the dog to identify the dog by shape, size, color, whether the dog has a tail and anything else that can identify the specific dog that bit you.
You should also take photographs of the dog’s owner. Unfortunately, some dog owners will take the dog and disappear if their dog has bitten someone.
If you are not able to verify the owner’s information you might not be able to pursue legal action later.
Take photographs of where you are, including street signs and house numbers, the make, model, and license plates of cars in the vicinity, and other information that can be used to identify where the dog bite incident occurred, and potential witnesses who might have seen the dog bite.
If the dog owner does not take the dog and run, get the owner’s name, address, and phone number, as well as information about the dog including the breed, age, and whether the dog is up to date on vaccinations.
By verifying the dog’s vaccination history, you could save yourself from a series of painful and expensive shots to prevent rabies and other diseases.
Also ask for homeowner’s insurance information, as dog bites are often covered under a homeowner’s insurance policy.
Take photographs of your injuries, documenting anything related to the dog bite - especially bloody or torn clothing, and any injuries you suffered, including bite marks, torn flesh, and bruising.
Write down everything that happened as soon after the incident as possible. As time passes you memory might fade, and a written record will help you remember what happened in the dog bite incident, as well as the immediate aftermath.
Michigan has a specific law that covers dog bites. MCL 287.351 states
287.351 Person bitten by dog; liability of owner.
Sec. 1. (1) 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.
(2) A person is lawfully on the private property of the owner of the dog within the meaning of this act if the person is on the owner's property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him or her by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or if the person is on the owner's property as an invitee or licensee of the person lawfully in possession of the property unless said person has gained lawful entry upon the premises for the purpose of an unlawful or criminal act.
This means that in order to prove that a dog owner is liable for injuries caused by a dog, the injured person must show that:
Dog owners are limited to the defenses set forth in the statute - that the victim provoked the dog or was a trespasser at the time of the dog bite. Nicholes v. Lorenz, 237 N.W.2d 468 (Mich. 1976).
Michigan applies strict liability to dog bite injury claims. This means that the dog owner is responsible for almost any dog bite injury caused by their dog.
There are some exceptions to strict liability for dog bites. If you were trespassing on the dog owner’s property you cannot hold the dog owner liable for a dog bite injury. Likewise, if you were provoking the dog, you might not be able to hold the dog owner liable for your injuries.
Unlike some states, in Michigan, you do not need to prove that the dog has bitten people before, or that the dog owner was required to put up fencing or warning signs.
A dog owner cannot escape liability by claiming he or she did not know the dog was dangerous and likely to bite, or that the dog owner posted warning signs about the dog.
In addition to strict liability, someone injured by a dog can also seek compensation for their injuries based on the negligence of the dog owner. To succeed, a dog bite victim must show that the dog owner took an unreasonable action, or unreasonably failed to act.
A common example of dog owner negligence is a violation of local leash ordinances or other animal control laws.
For example, Ann Arbor’s leash law states that
“dogs must be secured by a leash held by the owner or the owner’s agent when walking, and... must be secured by a leash which is attached by a stationary object and attended by the owner or the owner’s agent when on premises or confined in a vehicle.”
Negligence laws also apply to other, non-bite injuries caused by a dog, such as injuries caused when a dog knocks someone over.
Michigan’s strict liability dog bite law applies only to dog bites. If the dog caused another type of injury, such as if a dog knocked someone over and caused an injury, Michigan’s negligence law would apply.
If you were bitten on a dog owner’s property, in addition to Michigan’s dog bite liability statute and negligence law, a dog bite victim can also consider premises liability laws.
Michigan premises liability laws essentially state that someone who is invited onto a dog owner’s property has a reasonable expectation that they will not be injured. This means that the owner of the property has a duty to maintain the property in a relatively safe condition, including keeping potentially dangerous animals away from guests and warning visitors about the potential danger posed by the dog.
However, if you were trespassing or not “lawfully” on the dog owner’s property, the dog owner might not be liable.
All states have a statute of limitations that sets a deadline for filing a claim for injuries sustained from a dog bite or other injuries caused by a dog. In Michigan, you have three years from the date of the incident to file a lawsuit. If you fail to file a lawsuit within three years, your case will be thrown out of court.
While there are some notable exceptions to Michigan’s statute of limitations, such as if the victim was a child, it is best to consult with a dog bite injury lawyer as soon as possible after a dog bite injury.
It can be a very traumatic experience for a child to be bitten by a dog. In addition to the immediate pain of a dog bite and possible lifetime scars, a dog bite is also an emotionally difficult experience for a child and can engender a lifelong fear of dogs.
Dog bites account for between .5% and 1.5% of all pediatric visits, and almost half of children under age 13 have been bitten by a dog.
Young children are at an increased risk for dog bites, and dog bites are more likely to cause serious, traumatic injuries, and even death in young children.
Young children are more likely to be bitten on the head, face, and neck, while older children are more likely to experience dog bites on the hands, feet, arms, and legs.
Children’s legal claims are especially complicated. Children cannot always explain how the injury occurred. Additionally, a longer statute of limitations applies to children’s claims for damages, as a child bitten by a dog has until his or her 19th birthday to file a lawsuit. However, waiting to pursue legal action only makes the case more difficult, as witnesses may have moved, the dog (or its owner) may have died, and evidence will be more difficult to obtain.
Under Michigan’s strict liability dog bite law, the dog owner is responsible for damages caused by the dog.
Dog owners are usually responsible when the actions of their dog cause damage to another person’s property, including another person’s dog.
The real question is the extent of liability, and whether it makes sense to sue.
Michigan’s dog bite statute applies only to persons bitten by a dog. This means it does not apply if your dog was bitten or otherwise injured by another dog.
While dogs may seem like a member of the family, the law treats dogs as property. If your dog was injured or even killed in an attack by another dog, you would need to prove that the owner of the attacking dog was negligent. You would be eligible to receive compensation for damages sustained. In the case of a dog attacking another dog, this would probably be the value of any veterinary bills you incurred as a result of the dog attack.
Dog bite injuries are usually covered under homeowners or renters insurance policy. In some cases, often for certain breeds, local laws may require a dog owner to carry special dog insurance coverage that will provide a dog bite victim compensation in the event of injuries caused by a dog bite.
Most homeowners' insurance policies have liability limits between $100,00 and $300,000 for dog bite injury claims. This is the highest amount the insurance company will pay in the event of a dog bite claim. Anything above the insurance liability limits must be paid by the dog owner.
But just because a dog owner has insurance does not necessarily mean that your claim will be covered. Some homeowners insurance policies exclude certain breeds of dogs, such as pit bulls or rottweilers. Other times the insurance company believes that your claim is not valid and will not cover your claim.
In 2018, homeowners insurers paid $675 million in liability claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
Dog bite victims filed 17,297 claims in 2018.
The average payment for a dog bite claim nationwide was $39,017.
The average insurance payout for a dog bite claim has risen 103% since 2003 due to increased medical costs, as well as the size of dog bite settlements, judgments, and jury awards in dog bite claims.
Of course, every dog bite claim is different, and the value of a dog bite injury claim will vary based on a number of factors, including the age of the victim, the severity of injuries sustained, whether the victim was employed and, if so, how much the injury victim earned, the cost of medical treatment required to treat the dog bite injuries, and the extent to which the dog bite injuries will have a lasting effect on the victim.
Dog bite claims can be expensive. If a dog owner does not have insurance to cover the damages caused by a dog bite, the dog owner can be held personally liable for damages caused by a dog bite.
However, if a dog owner did not have insurance, there are serious questions about whether a dog bite victim will be able to successfully collect on any judgment against the dog owner.
If a dog owner does not have insurance, it is often best to negotiate the terms of compensation with the dog owner. This increases the likelihood that both parties will walk away satisfied.
A Michigan dog bite lawyer can assist in getting an insured dog owner to understand the benefits of agreeing to a payment plan and to avoid the complications that come with defending a dog bite lawsuit.
Working with an experienced Michigan dog bite injury lawyer is extremely beneficial. A lawyer understands how to hold a dog owner responsible so you and your family can get what you need and deserve after a traumatic dog bite injury.
Many times, a dog bite lawyer can negotiate an out of court settlement with the dog owner’s insurance company. Other times it is necessary to file a lawsuit to obtain compensation for a dog bite injury.
A dog bite injury lawyer can file a lawsuit to obtain information. Often a dog owner will claim not to have insurance until they are sued when they turn the claim over to their insurance company for defense.
A lawyer can help determine who actually owns the dog. In some cases, the dog may be co-owned by a friend, ex-girlfriend, or ex-spouse, or even a rescue organization that still owns the dog.
A lawyer is uniquely qualified to help you find who owns the dog, which can also lead to finding insurance coverage in the case of dog owners who claim not to have insurance.
A dog bite injury lawyer will help you and your family obtain the compensation that you need and deserve. If you or someone you care about was bitten by a dog, you may be eligible to recover damages for:
The lawyers at Muth Law have experience representing dog bite injury victims and have successfully recovered millions of dollars on behalf of our clients.
If you were bitten by a dog, push the police and animal control to have criminal charges filed against the dog owner. Testify in the criminal case, emphasizing that you need restitution. If convicted, the dog owner may be required to pay your medical bills as part of the criminal case. You can also use the findings in the criminal case as evidence in your civil case against the dog owner to recover or non-economic damages.
At Muth Law, part of our promise is to help you get your life back together after a devastating injury. That's why you'll never pay an attorney fee unless we recover money for you.
Of course, we're focused on maximizing your financial recovery after a serious dog bite injury. But we also understand that success is about more than just the outcome of your case - it means peace of mind for you and your family. And many times, that's about more than just money.
Our clients are often concerned about what will happen to the dog after it bites someone, especially when the dog is owned by a friend or family member. Usually, the answer to this question is up to you. If you wish, the attorneys at Muth Law can file a dangerous animal complaint. The case will be heard by a local judge who will determine whether the animal should be put down. If you do not want to file a dangerous animal complaint, you are not required to.
The two most common defenses to a dog bite injury claim are that the victim was tormenting the dog, or that the victim was trespassing on the dog owner’s property.
Provoking a dog may include hitting a dog, pulling its tail, or other conduct that might provoke a dog to attack and bite.
However, many small children do not understand that their behavior is provoking the dog. Other times, they might think the dog is playing. The child’s actions are often fairly minor compared to the severity of the attack.
Trespassing has a specific, technical definition, and the success of a trespassing defense to a dog bite claim will depend on the specifics of the situation.
When a dog bites another dog at doggie daycare, the dog is usually experiencing a high amount of stress and felt that biting was its only option. A dog bite during play is often the result of over-arousal or fear.
Most doggie daycare facilities have dog owners sign a liability waiver stating that the dog’s owner is responsible for damage caused by their dogs. This would cover injuries sustained by other dogs.
If a dog bites a doggie daycare employee, the doggie daycare employee should be covered by the employer’s worker’s compensation coverage. The owner of the doggie daycare should be held liable under a variety of theories, such as failing to properly train its employees, and assumption of the risk. It is unlikely but possible, that the dog owner might be held liable under Michigan’s dog bite statute.
Enrolling a dog in obedience training as early as possible can reduce a dog’s tendency towards aggression. Nonetheless, confident dog breeds that are naturally aggressive should be closely monitored and not placed in situations that could trigger aggressive behavior. It is important for a dog owner to know the dog’s limitations and live within the dog’s boundaries.
Teach children to respect all dogs. By understanding the behaviors that can trigger dog bites, people can protect themselves from serious injuries caused by dog bites.
If you have questions about a dog bite injury, contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with our experienced Michigan dog bite attorneys. We'll listen as you tell us about your case, and we'll answer your questions based on more than 35 years practicing personal injury law.
Call Muth Law, P.C. at 734-481-8800, email us at Info@muthlawpc.com, or complete our online form. We look forward to helping you and your family.
Muth Law, P.C., provides legal guidance for clients across Michigan, including Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint, Saginaw, Bay City, Port Huron, Monroe, Brighton, Lansing, East Lansing, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Jackson, Traverse City, Canton, Warren, Livonia, Adrian, Dearborn. The office also sees clients throughout Metro Detroit and the following counties: Wayne County, Washtenaw County, Oakland, Macomb County, Ingham County, Kent County, Calhoun County, Livingston County, Genesee County, Jackson County Hillsdale County and Monroe County.