Michigan Dog Bite Law

A dog bite victim in Michigan can recover compensation under a special statute and the doctrines of negligence, scienter, and intentional tort.


The state of Michigan holds the owner of a dog strictly liable for dog bites to a human being that were not provoked, provided that if the incident happened upon the dog owner’s property the victim was not a trespasser or there to do something unlawful or criminal. Liability also can be based upon scienter, negligence, and other grounds such as battery. 

The statutory ground is set forth in the strict liability dog bite statute, Mich. Comp. Laws Ann., sec. 287.351. It provides as follows:

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.

Dog owners are limited to the defenses enumerated in the statute, namely that the plaintiff provoked the dog or the plaintiff was a trespasser at the time of the incident. Nicholes v. Lorenz (Mich. 1976), 237 N.W.2d 468.

The second most significant ground is negligence. It can be based on anyone’s unreasonable actions or unreasonable failure to take an action. Negligence also can be based on the violation of a leash law or animal control law. See Zeni v Anderson, 397 Mich 117, 128-129 (1976); Gould v Atwell, 205 Mich App 154, 158 (1994). For example, Section 10-27 of the Grosse Pointe Code of Ordinances requires dogs to be kept on a leash when off the owner’s property. (Subsection (a) of section 10-27 states that “[n]o owner of any dog may permit such dog to stray beyond his premises unless the dog is on a leash but no longer than 10 feet in length which leash is properly held by a person capable of restraining the actions of such dog, or unless such dog is in an enclosed vehicle or container.”)

Some cities in Michigan have strict liability laws that go beyond the state’s strict liability ordinance. For example, section 10-28 of the the Grosse Pointe Code of Ordinances provides that “[e]very owner of a dog shall be liable for damages for any and all injuries to person or property caused by such dog, to be determined and collected in appropriate civil proceedings, and nothing in this chapter shall be construed to impose any liability upon the city, its agents or employees, for damages caused by such dog.” It is a strict liability law that covers “any and all injuries” to both people and animals (as well as other property), making it more expansive than the state statute.

Landlords can be held liable for bites inflicted by dogs belonging to tenants. In Szkodzinski v. Griffin, 171 Mich. App. 711, 431 N.W.2d 51 (1988), the 6-year-old plaintiff was bitten when a vicious dog owned by the defendant’s residential tenant attacked him when he entered the premises to retrieve his ball.  The court, citing Strunk  v. Zoltanki, supra, 62 N.Y.2d 572, 468 N.E.2d 13, 479 N.Y.S.2d 175, stated that the defendant landlord could be held liable if he knew of the dog’s vicious nature. Land owners can be held responsible for any dangerous condition of their property. See Premises Liability vs. General Negligence in Michigan by Ronald C. Wernette Jr. and Eric A. Rogers. 

For a sample brief of the law of Michigan pertaining to statutory liability, negligence based on the violation of a city leash law, and strict liability based on a city ordinance, see Michigan Law Brief. Many other causes of action are possible in a dog bite case; see Causes of Action. A Complaint containing these causes of action can be easily drafted by using the templates in Dog Bite Lawsuit Forms and The Undemurrable Complaint