Perhaps the oldest newspaper headline in American history is "Dog bites man". But that hackneyed cliché is fast giving way to a more modern news flash: "Man bites dog's owner"--in the wallet, that is.
In the good old days, a dog-versus-man clash usually included a trip to the doctor's office, followed by a manly handshake and perhaps a hearty apology. Nowadays, no dog attack is complete without a trip to the trial court, thanks to a little known statute that effectively pronounces the dog owner guilty as charged, months or years before the first rap of the Judge's gavel. That statute, passed by the Legislature in Lansing, Michigan, states, in essence that: "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 ...".
Contrary to urban myth, there is no "one free bite" defense under Michigan law.
The obligations imposed by the Michigan dog bite statute purport to impose blame on a dog owner without any finding of fault, such as negligence or specific intent. Accident injury lawyers call that type of responsibility "strict liability". That said, there are two defenses to such a charge.
The first and most frequently raised defense is provocation. At least one panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals in Grand Rapids has held that provocation can result from both intentional and unintentional acts. Thus, a dog owner may be absolved of any wrongdoing, if the dog's attack was in response to threatening or challenging acts of the victim.
The second defense is trespass. The common conception is that trespass involves unlawful intent. In fact, trespass may occur in the complete absence of the intent to enter another's property. Even a person whom accidentally wandered onto the property without permission, therefore, could be categorized as a trespasser. Thus, if a dog bite victim files suit, and the court determines that the victim had no right to be on the owner's property, the court would be obligated to dismiss the injury victim's lawsuit.
The right to enter the property of another is not always spelled out in so many words. Certain people have the right to enter private property even if the owner is unaware and has not granted permission. Consumers Energy meter readers in Ann Arbor, Michigan are among those who routinely go onto private property every day. Hence, the high incidents of dog bites and dog attacks against meter readers.
Sadly, many of these injury victims reflexively turn to their workers compensation insurance for coverage for their wounds and disabilities. Without consulting a Southfield injury lawyer or a Troy insurance attorney, many of those dog bite victims allow their valuable injury claims to fall by the wayside, without ever knowing that they even existed.
Normally, workers compensation is the exclusive remedy for injuries arising out of and in the course of the employee's job. A little known feature of Michigan injury law is this: Even if the victim's injuries arose out of and in the course of the victim's work, if the person who caused the accident was not a coworker, a principal or an agent of the employer, traditional injury law remedies remain viable. That is an important consideration because workers compensation benefits are limited, whereas compensation for injuries caused by a negligent non-coworker are unlimited.
Consumers Energy Reports Rash Of Dog Attacks On Meter Readers, The Holland Sentinel, September 11, 2011, The Reeves Law Group