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Dog Owners’ Liability Guide: How Bad Does a Dog Bite Have to be to Sue

WRITTEN BY:
Steven Matz
November 30, 2023 | Dog Bite

Dogs can be some of the best companions one can have in life, being fiercely loyal and protective of their humans. That can, however, sometimes lead to misunderstandings. When a dog bites someone, that person could sustain serious injuries both physically and psychologically. In fact, about 800,000 Americans have to get medical attention for a dog bite every year.

If you have suffered a dog bite in Michigan, you may find yourself dealing with serious injuries. Learn more about your rights in the wake of a dog attack incident, and discover how a Michigan dog bite lawyer may be able to help you along your journey to recovery. Matz Injury Law stands ready to lend our experience to your unique case.

How Bad Does a Dog Bite Have to Be to Sue?

If you are bit by a dog in any capacity, you may have grounds to take legal action in Michigan. Keep in mind that you can sue for both physical and psychological injuries even after a minor dog bite, as being bitten by a dog can trigger serious trauma in people. As a disclaimer, however, it is important to note that your ability to sue after a dog bite can be limited by the circumstances of the incident. For example, you may not have a case if you purposely provoked the dog or were illegally trespassing. If you break into someone’s private property and a dog bites you, you cannot hold the homeowner liable.

Does Michigan Follow the One-Bite Rule?

The one-bite rule is a legal dog bite statute that allows dogs to get one free bite for which their owner is not held liable. After that, the owner should be aware that their dog is potentially dangerous and act accordingly to prevent their dog from biting others. Michigan does not abide by the one-bite rule, instead using the strict liability standard.

The strict liability dog bite law does not allow for the one free bite that the one-bite rule would allow. Under strict liability, if a dog bite occurs in a situation where the dog bite victim is allowed to be where the bite happened, such as in a public place, then the owner of the dog is liable for injuries caused. This applies even if the owner did not know they had a dangerous dog or could not intervene to prevent the attack. Leash laws are typically not relevant, but breaking leash laws will make it harder for the dog owner to argue against your claim.

What to Do After a Dog Bite in Michigan

When you suffer dog bite injuries in Michigan, there are a few steps you can take to help your chances of receiving compensation. These primarily revolve around gathering evidence, and include the following:

  • Identify the owner of the dog and who had custody of the dog when it bit you.
  • Get contact information from witnesses, including names and addresses.
  • Take photographs of your wounds.
  • See a doctor for medical treatment to create a medical record.
  • Make a report to your local animal control agency to establish a more comprehensive record of the incident.
  • Get in touch with a Michigan personal injury lawyer.
  • Do not accept a settlement from an insurance company without speaking to a lawyer first.

Damages You Can Recover in a Dog Bite Lawsuit in Michigan

In the wake of a dog bite, you may be able to recover both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are damages that are easily quantifiable, while non-economic damages are a bit more abstract. Economic damages include medical expenses, lost wages, and potentially even plastic surgery if the bite warrants treatment for scars.

Non-economic damages for dog bites typically include pain and suffering, shock, and fright. Because these do not easily have a dollar value assigned to them like physical injuries, you may want to consider working with a dog bite lawyer to get an accurate estimate of how much your case is worth. Dog bites can also have long-lasting psychological effects and cause victims of dog bites to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which also may warrant compensation.

Statute of Limitations for Filing a Dog Bite Lawsuit

You will have three years from the date of the dog bite to file a lawsuit. Dog bites do not have any special statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit, so your case will involve the general statute that applies to the vast majority of injury cases: three years. While some injuries utilize the discovery rule that would begin the three-year countdown when the injury is discovered rather than when it was received, it is unlikely that you will not immediately notice the injury from a dog bite.

Special Considerations for Dog Bite Lawsuits Involving Children in Michigan

It is important to note that there is a special exception to the standard three-year rule if the victim is a minor. Should an injured family member be a minor, they will have until their 19th birthday to file a lawsuit for the dog bite. This applies even if the dog bite occurred when the child was very young.

Keep in mind that settlements for dog bite cases involving children tend to be fairly significant, considering the greater chance of scarring and disfigurement and the high costs of scar-minimizing plastic surgery. As a disclaimer, you may have to prove that your child was not trespassing or provoking the dog to make your case.

How to Initiate a Dog Bite Lawsuit in Michigan

The best way to initiate a dog bite lawsuit is to get in touch with a Michigan dog bite attorney. They can help you navigate the legal system every step of the way and help you determine what an appropriate settlement for your case would be. These cases can be incredibly complex, with multiple facets to consider all at the same time.

Determining Liability in a Michigan Dog Bite Lawsuit

As long as the victim was not trespassing or provoking the dog, liability lies solely with the dog’s owner. Because of Michigan’s strict liability rule, the history of the dog’s temperament and aggression is irrelevant to the case. Even a first-time bite can entitle the victim to compensation for injuries sustained.

aggressive dogs growling at each other

Filing a Dog Bite Lawsuit in Michigan

A dog bite lawsuit begins by filing a complaint with the district court. This dog bite claim should detail the circumstances of the bite, the people involved, and who you believe to be at fault. The losses you suffered should also be detailed, such as medical bills and emotional distress. Afterward, a summons will be issued that requires the defendants (the dog owner and the people behind their insurance policy) to answer your complaint.

The defendants can file “answers,” which are the rebuttal to your accusations. After that, the judge will issue a scheduling order that will determine the dates for the lawsuit. Remember that injury lawsuits can take a significant amount of time to resolve, especially in the busier counties throughout Michigan.

After the scheduling order is issued, you will have to go through discovery, a process in which the lawyers will investigate the facts related to your case. Once discovery has been completed, your lawyer will try to settle the lawsuit before actually taking it to trial. While most cases do settle at this point, the ones that do not will have to go to a trial. This is where you will need an experienced Michigan personal injury attorney because the insurance company working against you will send their best.

Collecting Evidence for a Michigan Dog Bite Lawsuit

Any dog bite lawsuit will require evidence to make your case. The following are likely to be the most important pieces of evidence to include when suing:

  • Photos of the bite and accompanying lacerations
  • Records of treatment and medical care for the bite
  • Bills for medical treatment
  • Eyewitness testimony from anyone who saw the bite occur
  • Testimony regarding your quality of life after the bite
  • Pay stubs for lost wages
  • Measurements of the puncture wounds to match the dog’s teeth

What to Expect in a Michigan Dog Bite Lawsuit

Most of the time, a dog bite lawsuit in Michigan will be settled before going to trial. After the initial filings, your lawyer will have the opportunity to pursue a settlement with the defendants. This process is often mediated by a judge or third party. If a settlement is not reached, however, you will have to go to trial. This is why it is so important to get a good trial lawyer for your case from the beginning.

What to Do if You Are Offered a Settlement in Your Michigan Dog Bite Case

Insurance companies, such as the insurance provider of the person who owns the dog that bit you, will try to get you to accept a settlement as soon as possible. The sooner you accept, the sooner they can stop worrying about your case. Given the nature of their business, however, their settlement offer will almost certainly be less than what your case is actually worth. After all, the business model of insurance companies depends on them denying as much of a payout as they feel they can get away with.

Insurers do not have your best interests in mind, but a personal injury lawyer will. They can negotiate on your behalf with the insurance company and argue in favor of the compensation that you deserve. This is why you should never accept any kind of settlement offer until you have spoken to an attorney first.

How Long Do Michigan Dog Bite Cases Take to Resolve?

The length of a dog bite case will vary based on the circumstances of the incident. Most cases settle within a year, though straightforward cases that involve minor injuries can be settled in the span of a few weeks. More complex cases, however, can easily last longer than a year. Complicated cases include instances in which the victim is a child or the lasting extent of the victim’s scarring is not easy to determine. Cases in more populous counties tend to take longer as well, simply due to the amount of work the court has to go through.

The Importance of Hiring an Experienced Michigan Dog Bite Lawyer

Hiring a lawyer is essential if you want to put yourself in an ideal position for your case. Insurance companies have talented lawyers who will work to try to deny you as much compensation as possible. The way to combat their efforts is with a lawyer of your own. If you think you may not be able to afford a lawyer for a civil case like this, you do not have to worry because good lawyers operate on contingency.

Matz Injury Law utilizes the contingency fee standard in all of our cases. Put simply, you do not owe us a penny unless we win your case. Because of this, there is no risk in seeking legal assistance for your dog bite case. While the typical contingency fee is 33% of the total winnings of the case, Matz Injury Law operates a bit differently. With our contingency fee structure, you would only ever owe 22% of your case’s winnings. Again, this only applies if we win your case.

Tips for Choosing a Michigan Dog Bite Lawyer

To find a dependable Michigan dog bite lawyer, you will need to investigate whether they meet the proper standards. One of the best ways to investigate any lawyer is to take a look at their testimonials and reviews. Be sure to check out some outside sources in addition to their own site because they are not likely to publish any negative reviews they get on any platform they control. Additionally, take a look at how they charge for their services. Opting for a lawyer who works on contingency is almost a necessity, but one that charges less for their contingency than most others, like Matz Injury Law, especially stands out.

How a lawyer handles your case involves more than just how they can file motions and represent you in court. A qualified attorney who cares about your case will also show the same courtesy to you as a person with a positive attorney-client relationship. They must be compassionate as well as communicative, leaving you confident in them handling your legal issues. You should be able to focus on your recovery with peace of mind. A lawyer being thorough with your case also helps with this, going the extra mile to make them stand out from the rest.

lawyer shaking hands with client

How Matz Injury Law Can Help With Your Dog Bite Lawsuit

With Matz Injury Law by your side, you can enjoy quite a few benefits regarding your dog bite case. Our experienced attorneys can gather evidence for your case and accurately calculate the damages you suffered. We can communicate with insurance companies and police on your behalf, and we can file all the necessary paperwork correctly and on time. If your case goes to trial, we will represent you in court and put our trial experience to work for you. Remember, Matz Injury Law offers both lower fees and the opportunity to be represented by an actual partner in a law firm with your personal injury lawsuit.

Why Our Clients Choose Matz

We have represented Michigan injury victims for years with consistency and high effort. Our legal advice has earned glowing testimonials after personal injury cases.

Client Testimonial

“My family is grateful for Steve Matz’s professional handling of our case. Steve was very thorough, candid, responsive, and strategic in his approach throughout our legal proceedings. If ever in a situation again like my family has experienced over the past year, we would immediately retain Matz Injury Law to represent our interests. Thank you Steve.” — John P.

We Help You Fight After a Bad Bite

A dog bite can be a traumatic experience, but Matz Injury Law stands ready to help. We will fight back to help you get the compensation you deserve, letting you or a loved one focus on recovery. Get in touch with us by calling 1-866-22Not33 or filling out our online contact form for a free consultation and case evaluation.

steven matz headshot

Written By Steven Matz

Founding Shareholder

Steven J. Matz is a founding shareholder of Matz Injury Law. The firm’s concentration is on personal injury litigation, with an emphasis on traumatic brain injury.

The maximum contingency fee permitted by law is actually 331/3%. Michigan court rules require that the attorney fee be computed on the net sum recovered after deducting all disbursements properly chargeable to the enforcement of the claim.

What does 22not33 mean, exactly?

We can charge 22% while virtually all other injury attorneys charge 331/3% because we are very, very, good at obtaining results for our clients.

We do not spend millions of dollars on television ads; instead, we offer a lower fee to all our clients. We do not have dozens of lower paid associates handling our work. All our clients are represented by Steven and Jared Matz. Steven Matz started the firm in 1977 and since then has dedicated his life to representing injury victims. Jared joined the firm in 2016 but grew up listening to stories, discussing theories, and generally learning at the dinner table about how to effectively and compassionately represent injury victims. Jared Matz was literally born to represent individuals involved in motor vehicle crashes.

All of our cases are handled on a contingency fee and all our cases are handled at 22%. Whether the case settles or goes through trial, the fee does not change. While our competitors make excuses as to why they charge so much, we are obtaining results for our clients at a lower fee.

At a typical television advertising law firm, your first call will be handled by a receptionist, who may refer you to an intake person, who will discuss your claim with an intake manager, who then discusses your claim with an associate, who may then report to a partner. You may never speak with the person whose name is at the top of the letterhead. At Matz Injury Law you will always speak with either Steven Matz or Jared Matz.