Merry Christmas and Happy New Years to everyone out there. I sincerely hope that you and yours had a good 2014 and that 2015 will be even better. With many of us home for the holidays, there is a lot of parties, guests over, and people we haven’t seen in a long time around. For those of us with animals in the house, these events can lead to unexpected incidents. Today we will be discussing what happens if you are bitten by a dog, or if you have a dog and it bites someone else.
Dog bite cases are some of the easiest cases for a lawyer to try. Why? Because under the law you don’t have to prove that anybody did anything wrong. In almost every other type of case that lawyers handle you have to prove that someone did something wrong. Not in a dog bite case. Michigan has what lawyers call “strict liability”. Strict liability means that under almost any circumstances, if your dog bites someone you are responsible for the injuries, regardless of who is at fault.
It didn’t use to be this way. Back in the day, to win in a dog bite case (or other animal case) you had to show that the dog owner did something wrong. Normally, this meant that you had to show that the dog owner knew that his or her dog had vicious tendencies, or was likely to attack, and owner didn’t stop it. This was a pretty hard standard to prove. You usually had to show that the dog had been vicious in the past or that it had bitten someone else.
This changed when the Michigan legislature passed a law that specifically governs dog bite cases. Under the law, an owner is always responsible for the damage that a dog does except in two main circumstances. The first exception is if the dog was provoked. This would mean that someone was taunting the dog, poking it with a stick, or something like that. The second exception is that the dog bit someone who was trespassing. An examples is if a person jumped over your fence to grab a ball that had fallen on your side of the fence and the dog bit them. In such a situation, the dog owner is generally not responsible.
We’ve seen several pretty horrible dog bite cases over the years. For example in one case, a young girl was mauled in the face by her grandmother’s dog which literally tore the braces out of her mouth and left her permanent scarred and disfigured. I litigated that case on the girl’s behalf and obtained a substantial recovery.
In my experience, homeowners’ insurance always covers dog bite cases. If you own a home and have an animal and don’t have insurance, it could be a serious problem if the animal bites someone. A good friend of mine consulted with me on a case where his parents ran a hotel up north. His parents had a dog who was getting older and had been getting a little more testy. One day, the dog bit a guest and my friend’s parents were sued. His parents didn’t have any insurance so they ended up having to pay $75,000.00 out‑of-pocket to settle the case. You definitely don’t want this to happen to you.
Even if you don’t own a home, and you have a pet, you should carry some kind of renters’ insurance that will cover you in case something happens. Most of us would say “hey, not my dog, it would never bite somebody”. But animals can act unpredictably. I have another good friend who had a wonderful and very gentle dog. I knew this dog my whole life and it had never hurt a soul. The dog developed a brain tumor, which unbeknownst to its owners, grew in the dog’s brain. The brain tumor caused the dog to lash out one day and maul someone.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU’RE BIT BY AN ANIMAL?
If you’re bitten by an animal the first thing is to get medical attention and make sure that you are safe. The second thing to do is contact a lawyer. In most circumstances, you are entitled under the law automatically to certain benefits. The medical bills, loss of work, and other damages can add up.
My own brother was mauled by a dog when we were younger and had a large portion of his nose bitten off. It required operations and a large amount of medical bills. The dog was owned by a family friend, so my brother never did anything about it. I didn’t know anything about dog bites back then. Had that happened today, I would tell him the first thing he needs to do is contact an attorney, because his friend’s homeowners’ insurance would have covered all of his medical bills and other issues. His friend’s family probably wouldn’t have had to pay a penny. That’s what they have insurance for, to cover these unforeseen and unfortunate occurrences.
Be sure to take pictures of the injury and keep all documentation. You may need this later. Also, don’t make any statements to the insurance company before talking to your lawyer.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOUR DOG ATTACKS SOMEONE ELSE?
If you’re in the unfortunate situation where your dog or animal attacks someone else, make sure that they get medical attention immediately and are in a safe environment away from the animal. After that person is safe you should immediately contact your insurance company and file a report letting them know what happened and the circumstances surrounding it. Your own insurance company will take over from there and handle the claim on your behalf. If a lawsuit is filed against you, your insurance company will give you an attorney and will work to resolve the claim on your behalf.
Dog bite cases are pretty routine and they happen more than one might think. If you or someone that you know has been injured by a dog or other animal, feel free to contact me for a free consultation.