dog snarling

Dog Bite Injuries: What Are Your Legal Options?

Getting attacked by a dog can be very unsettling and scary. Aside from the physical injuries, a dog attack can adversely impact your mental health and leave you emotionally traumatized. Young children – in particular – can be severely affected by dog attacks and the trauma caused by the attack can interfere with their normal physical and mental development.

Under Michigan law, dog bite victims have the right to sue the owner of the dog and recover compensation. If you have been injured as a result of a dog attack, it’s vital to consult with an experienced Michigan dog bite lawyer right away so that you can take the necessary steps to recover compensatory damages from the dog owner.

Dog Bite Attacks – What the Numbers Say

The Insurance Information Institute (III) reports that every year, more than 4.5 million people in the US are bitten by dogs. Nearly 51% of dog bite victims happen to be children between the ages of 5 and 9.

In 2021, insurers paid out more than $800 million in damages to victims of dog bite attacks. The average settlement for a dog bite claim was $49,025. Michigan – where 42% of households have at least one dog – is among the states with the highest number of dog bites reported every year.

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What Should You Do If You Are Bitten By a Dog?

#1. Get Away from the Dog

First and foremost, get away from the dog to prevent further attack. At the same time, do not turn your back to the dog and run away, as the dog might chase you and attack you again.

#2. Clean the Wound

This is one of the most important steps you need to take after a dog attack. If you have superficial injuries, you should wash the injured area thoroughly with soap and water, pat it dry, apply some antibacterial cream or lotion, and cover the area with a sterile bandage.

If your skin is broken, press the injured area until the blood starts oozing out. The idea is to promote controlled bleeding so that the germs are flushed out.

If you have deep puncture wounds or other serious injuries and you are bleeding, press a clean piece of cloth against the injured area to arrest the bleeding. Once the bleeding stops, apply some antibacterial cream over the injured area and cover it with a sterile bandage.

#3. Get the Owner’s Contact Information

Note down the dog owner’s name, phone number, and address. Ask them about the dog’s vaccination status and get their veterinarian’s contact information if possible.

If the dog owner is not around, talk to the people who witnessed the attack and find out if they know whom the dog belongs to and where the owner lives. Get witness contact information as well. Statements or testimonies from witnesses can bolster your claim against the dog owner and significantly improve your chances of recovering damages.

#4. Gather Evidence

Take pictures of the dog that attacked you from a safe distance. Also, take as many pictures as you can of your injuries and the exact spot where you were attacked. If your clothes were torn and if any of your personal belongings were damaged in the attack, make sure you take pictures of them as well.

#5. Call the Animal Control Agency

Contact the local animal control agency and report the incident. It is particularly important if the dog that attacked you was abnormally aggressive and uncontrollable.

Reporting the attack to animal control serves two key purposes.

  • First, if you believe the dog might pose a threat to others, it is your duty as a member of the community to report it to the authorities.
  • Once you report the incident, authorities will investigate it and find out if the dog in question has attacked anyone else before and if it has been abused or neglected by its owner. Their findings can be used to strengthen your case against the owner and can help you get the compensation you deserve.

#6. Get Medical Attention

Make sure you get medical help as soon as possible. Remember – dogs carry a number of harmful bacteria including staphylococcus, pasteurella, and capnocytophaga, which can cause serious infections. Especially, if you have puncture wounds, the bacteria might penetrate deep into your tissues, which can lead to extremely serious consequences – if you are not treated in a timely manner.

Treating a Dog Bite Injury

Depending on the injured area and the severity of the injury, the doctor might decide to stitch up the wound or leave it open. This is because stitches are known to increase the risk of bacterial infection in many cases. Unless it is absolutely necessary, the doctor might decide to leave the wound open so that it can heal on its own.

In addition to this, if you are seriously injured, and if there is any damage to your tissues, muscles, or bones, surgery might be necessary.

The Risk of Tetanus in Dog Bites

One of the biggest risks associated with a dog bite is the possibility of getting tetanus. If you have had a tetanus shot in the last 10 years, the risk of getting tetanus is very low. Moreover, the doctor might recommend a booster shot under certain circumstances. These include:

  • If the wound is dirty.
  • If you are on chemotherapy, have diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, or any other underlying medical condition that can weaken the immune system.
  • If it has been more than 5 years since you last had your tetanus shot or if you cannot remember when you last had a tetanus shot.

The Risk of Rabies in Dog Bites

One of the first things that need to be determined after a dog attack is the vaccination status of the dog in question. In Michigan, dog owners are required to vaccinate their dogs against rabies – as well as a number of other diseases – by law. Based on this, if you are bitten by a pet dog, there is little chance of getting rabies.

With that said, if you are bitten by a dog that looks unhealthy or abnormal, a dog whose vaccination status is unknown, or a feral dog, you might have to be treated for rabies. It is a decision that the doctor who treats you will make – depending on your health condition, the severity of the injury, the injured area, and various other factors.

#7. Contact a Trusted and Competent Michigan Dog Bite Lawyer

Following a dog attack, you should get in touch with an experienced and resourceful Michigan dog bite attorney as soon as possible. The sooner you get in touch with a lawyer for dog bite claims, the sooner they can start building a case against the dog owner while you can focus on your recovery.

A successful dog bite lawsuit in Michigan can lead to compensatory awards that cover your medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Depending on the extent of the recklessness of the dog’s owner, your lawyer might even pursue punitive damages. Without a knowledgeable dog bite injury attorney on your side, it can be difficult to understand which laws and what type of damages may apply in your case.

Michigan Dog Bite Laws – What You Need to Know

Section 287.351 of Michigan Compiled Laws states that a dog owner can be held strictly liable for any injuries caused by their dog – as long as the attack was unprovoked and happened on the dog owner’s property or in a public place.

Strict liability – in this context – means that a dog owner can be held liable if their dog attacks and injures someone – regardless of whether they were negligent or not. As a dog bite victim, you are not required to prove that the owner was negligent or failed to take any action to prevent the attack. You merely have to prove the following elements in order to win your dog bite case.

  • The dog in question belongs to the owner.
  • The dog attacked you without any kind of provocation on your part.
  • You had a legal right to be where you were (whether the owner’s property or a public place) when the attack happened.
  • You suffered injuries as a result.

In some cases, the property owner or the landlord can be held liable if their tenant’s dog attacks and injures someone. This is because, under Michigan law, landlords can be held liable for any injuries caused by the dangerous conditions on their property – including dangerous animals owned by their tenants.

In Hamade v. Garza, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the landlord can be held liable for the actions of their tenant’s dog, as long as it is established that the landlord knew about the dog’s nature and failed to take any steps to mitigate the threat posed by the dog.

However, in order to hold a landlord liable for your injuries, you need to prove several elements. This is because, unlike the dog owner, the landlord cannot be held strictly liable for the injuries caused by the dog. The elements you need to prove include:

The Landlord’s Knowledge of the Dog’s Nature

Has the dog in question attacked or tried to attack anyone else before? Has it exhibited dangerous tendencies or signs of aggression before? If so, did the landlord personally witness it? If not, were they informed about these incidents by other sources (people who were attacked by the dog, neighbors, and other people)?

The Landlord’s Failure to Take Steps to Mitigate the Dangerous Condition

After coming to know about the nature of their tenant’s dog, did the landlord take any steps to mitigate the problem? Did they ask their tenant to take the dog to a veterinarian? Did they erect a wall around their property so that the dog cannot leap over and attack people? Did they post a warning on their property?

The Attack Happened on the Landlord’s Property or Very Close to the Property

If the dog attacked you while you were on the landlord’s property or right next to the property, you might be able to hold the landlord liable. On the other hand, if the attack happened in a public place or at a place that is far away from the landlord’s property, you might not be able to hold them liable.

Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite Claims in Michigan

The deadline for filing a dog bite injury claim in Michigan is three years – starting from the date on which the attack happened.

Damages You Can Recover in a Michigan Dog Bite Claim

The compensatory damages that you might be able to recover in a dog bite claim include:

  • Medical expenses (medical bills, cost of transportation, diagnostic tests, ER, surgery, physicians’ charges, intensive care, outpatient treatment, and medications).
  • Rehabilitation expenses (physical therapy, occupational therapy, and cognitive behavior therapy).
  • Cost of mobility aids and modifying your home to accommodate your disability (if you are disabled as a result of your injuries).
  • Cost of assisted living and long-term care (if you are permanently disabled).
  • Lost wages.
  • Loss of earning capacity.
  • Permanent scarring or disfigurement.
  • Pain and suffering.
  • Emotional trauma.
  • Diminished quality of life.

Steps Involved in a Michigan Dog Bite Claim

Your personal injury attorney will take the following steps to recover damages from the at-fault dog owner.

  • Investigating the attack, gathering evidence, and building a case against the dog owner.
  • Determining the value of your claim.
  • Sending a demand letter to the dog owner’s insurance company.
  • Negotiating with the claims adjuster for a dog bite settlement.

If a negotiated settlement is not possible, your Michigan dog bite injuries attorney will file a lawsuit, take your case to trial, and recover damages.

Why You Need to Have an Experienced Michigan Dog Bite Lawyer on Your Side

There are many reasons why it is important for you to hire a seasoned Michigan dog bite lawyer to handle your claim. These include:

Determining the Value of Your Claim

Determining the value of a dog bite injury case is not an easy task – largely due to the fact that there is an emotional component involved in these claims. Research shows that victims of dog bites are at risk of developing psychological problems like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The most common signs of PTSD after a dog attack include:

  • Intense fear of dogs (even your own dog).
  • Reliving the attack again and again and feeling anxious all the time.
  • Always being on the edge and feeling that something bad is about to happen.
  • Being scared of going out and mingling with others.

Depending on the severity of your psychological problems, it can take several months or even years for you to get over the attack and make a full recovery. Until then, you might find it very hard to lead a normal life. All these factors need to be taken into account while calculating the value of your claim. It is why you need to hire a skilled personal injury lawyer for dog bites to handle your claim.

Negotiating with the Dog Owner’s Insurance Company

Settlement negotiations are the hardest part of a personal injury claim. The claims adjuster will try to do everything they possibly can to deny liability for your injuries altogether or to blame you for your own injuries. You cannot expect them to play fair, as their only goal is to get away with paying you nothing – or as little as they possibly can.

When you are represented by an experienced trial lawyer, the adjuster might be wary of making unreasonably low settlement offers, as they know that if your lawyer decides to file a dog bite lawsuit, it can lead to a protracted and expensive legal battle.

Countering the Allegations Made by the Pet Owner

Under Michigan law, a person bitten by a dog cannot hold the owner of the dog responsible under the following circumstances.

  • If they provoked the dog in any way.
  • If they did not have a legal right to be on the owner’s property when the attack happened.

Knowing this, the dog owner might accuse you of provoking the dog or might claim that you were trespassing into their property when the attack happened. You need a competent lawyer to counter these allegations, establish the liability of the dog owner, and recover compensatory damages.

Legal Help Is Here from Proven Michigan Dog Bite Lawyers

If you or any of your family members have been injured in a dog bite attack, the experienced dog bite lawyers at The Lobb Law Firm can help you.

We can investigate your case, determine if the dog owner can be held liable, calculate the value of your claim, and take steps to recover the maximum amount of compensation possible.

Our legal team has over four decades of experience in handling personal injury cases – including several dog bite cases – and has recovered millions in restitution for our clients. Owing to our extensive trial experience, we never hesitate to take our cases to trial if we feel it might be necessary to recover damages from the at-fault party.

We work on a contingency basis, which means we get paid only if you get paid. We are available on a 24/7 basis to assist our clients. To know more about your legal options, call our law firm today at 248-591-4090 or contact us online and schedule a free consultation with one of our Michigan dog bite attorneys.