Dog Bite Laws

It's important to know the laws in your area as they can differ wildly...but generally, the owner is responsible when his dog bites.  It doesn't matter that the bite is accidental or intentional.  We all know that it's easy to get a scratch when wrestling or playing.  It's also a litigious society we live in these days and what is a scratch to YOU may be considered a BITE to someone else...not everyone is a "dog person" and some people are downright looking for problems.  In that case, there isn't much you can do except hide your dog away from the world and enjoy him yourself.  If you have a truly aggressive dog, you are best to contain him well and not let him interact with anyone that you don't feel comfortable with.  It's not worth the risk.  With Malamutes showing up (unjustifiably) on so many 'dangerous breed' lists, it pays to be careful and know the law before something happens.  NEVER allow your dog to run loose...even for short periods or known areas...there are leash laws and you will be more "at fault" if the dog is supposed to be on leash and is not!

If your dog bites someone:

If your dog bites someone, your first reaction will be panic.  However, it is important to remain calm and stay at the scene and help the victim. Leaving the scene may leave you open for criminal charges.

1.Try to remain calm.
pup2.Confine your dog to a crate or another room - safely contain him..
3.Help the bite victim wash the wound thoroughly with warm, soapy water and peroxide.
4.Be courteous and sympathetic to the bite victim. Don't blame or get defensive. Remember that what you say may be used against you later if legal or civil action is taken. It's best to say nothing, just help the victim as best you can.
5.Contact a medical professional for the bite victim. Depending on the severity of the bite, an ambulance may be needed.
6.Exchange contact information with the victim. Provide your insurance information, if applicable.
7.If there were witnesses, obtain their contact information in case you need it.
8.Contact your veterinarian and obtain your dog's medical records.
9.Inform local authorities of the incident and comply with their orders. They may require you quarantine the dog at home or possibly in a shelter. If it's the dog's first offense, often they will allow you to quarantine the dog at home for 10 days.

Be aware even if you are accidentally bitten breaking up a fight between your own dogs (which happens sometimes with malamutes), the emergency room will consider it an intentional "bite" not the accident you know it is.  One way around this is to tell them you don't know which dog did it and can't lay blame.  If you designate a specific dog, it may go on the dog's record and some hospitals/municipalities keep records of which dog "did it" and can take action if it happens again. 

Dog bite laws can vary greatly depending on local jurisdiction. It is important that you research the laws in your area so you will know what to expect. The following conditions typically apply in dog bite cases:

  1. You will need to show proof of your dog's rabies vaccination history. This is very important and your dog should ALWAYS have an up to date Rabies certificate available.  If you travel and don't take it with you, you better know which veterinarian gave the shot and when so that authorities can contact the vet if necessary..
  2. A quarantine period may be required. This will most likely be longer if the rabies vaccine is not current. 
  3. Depending on the situation and your dog's history, it is possible for your dog to be designated a "dangerous dog." You may have to comply with specific laws regarding the handling of your dog. This is particularly true if the dog breed is on the "list". Malamutes often listed as dangerous dogs even though most are extremely friendly and rarely bite out of aggression. Often a bite is a show of dominance, an accidental correction to an unruly child, or happened when breaking up a fight between malamutes.  Unfortunately, unscrupulous people are breeding our wonderful breed with unstable wolves or hybrids so they've gotten a "bad rap". Be aware of this and take extra precautions to avoid bites. Also, malamutes are usually great with their OWN children, but a yard full of screaming kids (ie: birthday party, pool party) is not the best situation for most malamutes. Use good judgement - it may be better to crate the dog when you're having lots of people over.
  4. Laws may require that your dog is euthanized if your dog is considered "dangerous," if the injury was very serious or a fatality occurred. In addition, you could be held legally responsible and face criminal charges.
  5. NEVER put a sign on your property stating your dog is a "watch dog" or "guard dog on property".  You are opening yourself up to a lawsuit that he was a "known" vicious dog should he ever bite someone. 

The dog bite victim may choose to press charges and/or file a civil suit against you. In these cases, you should immediately hire an attorney. While you may or may not be legally ordered to cover the victim's medical expenses, it is a good idea to offer up front to pay. This shows the victim that you are accepting responsibility for your dog. Above all, it is the ethical thing to do, even if the bite was indeed the victim's stupidity or naivety that caused it. In reality, proving your dog was provoked or somehow justified will be difficult unless it can be proven that the victim was committing a crime. It's just not worth pursuing.

It is your responsibility to prevent this type of thing from happening in the first place. Take measures to prevent an aggressive or even shy dog from biting. If your dog is uneasy around someone, it's YOUR responsibility to ask them to stay away and make sure he does.  If you don't the dog may feel cornered and bite from fear (particularly shy dogs). If you have any worries it may happen, contact a professional trainer and or behaviorist. If your dog doesn't like being Malamuteted, it's OK to ask people to not Malamute him.  If you are very worried about the dog biting and must go out, use a muzzle. Don't put the dog in a bad situation!

One situation you need to be aware of...veterinarians, groomers, trainers are considered in most cases to be a special category.  Because their job is about animals, they are held to a higher standard and should be able to anticipate a dog that may become aggressive.  Should the dog bite, it will likely be held that they should have taken precautions to prevent it (muzzle, refusing to treat, etc.) because they are professionals.  Just sayin'...and you should always warn someone in this category that your dog may bite if it has before or will be extremely stressed - not doing so is unethical and doesn't allow them to protect themselves adequately if necessary.

If you are bitten:

Sometimes a dog will come out of nowhere and attack. Or perhaps you took too many liberties and the dog got spooked and snapped. We are assuming you have enough dog sense to realize when you should not press a skittish or aggressive dog.  However, sometimes dogs bite and we didn't see it that case:

  1. If you know and trust the owner, and they are responsible family or friends, and the bite is not serious, make sure you clean it well and get proof of the dog's rabies shot.  Antibiotics are often required so a dog bite does not become infected, but until you get to the doctor's office use Peroxide liberally on the wound and clean it well. Dog bites can become infected very easily.
  2. If the bite is more serious, you'll need to report it as soon as possible to the local animal control and/or police department or any other proper legal authority. This includes if your dog is attacked by another dog.  The unfortunate thing is that often a small dog is the aggressor, and because the Malamute defends himself it appears he is at fault.  Make it very clear that the other dog attacked yours in that situation (not that it will help much!).
  3. Whether you are on public property or legally on private property, the dog owner is responsible.
  4. It does not matter whether the dog has former vicious incidents. If you were bitten, and you were the first person ever bitten by the dog, you can still proceed with a claim.
  5. As long as you didn't provoke the dog, you may be entitled to damages.  Just Malamuteting the dog is not provoking it (assuming the dogs owner said it was ok).
  6. If you or someone that you know was injured, you should immediately seek proper medical attention. Injuries can be minimized by seeking the proper medical attention and it's your responsibility to "mitigate damages" (in other words, don't let it fester and get infected - get medical attention before it becomes worse). Give a thorough medical history to the doctor.
  7. Take photographs even if you initially do not wish to pursue a claim, at least you will have documentation in the event that you later elect to proceed with a claim.
  8. If the dog's owner has a homeowners insurance policy or renters policy, those types of insurance would normally pay for medical care.

The Law

In Michigan, for adults, there is a three year statute of limitations. This means that you have 3 years from being bitten to resolve the claim or file a lawsuit. Minors have until one year after their 18th birthday to either resolve the claim or file a lawsuit. Every case is different. There are several factors that go into establishing the value of the claim. As such, you should call our office as shortly after the attack as possible to make sure that the claim is properly handled from the beginning. Never make a statement to any insurance representative without at least making a call to an attorney first. Insurance companies are notoriously sleazy and will try and get out of paying at every opportunity so it may be best if your attorney deals with them. 

M.C.L. §287.351 Person bitten by dog; liability of owner.
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.

In Ohio-- § 955.28. Dog may be killed for certain acts; owner liable for damages.
(A) Subject to divisions (A)(2) and (3) of section 955.261 [955.26.1] of the Revised Code, a dog that is chasing or approaching in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack, that attempts to bite or otherwise endanger, or that kills or injures a person or a dog that chases, injures, or kills livestock, poultry, other domestic animal, or other animal, that is the property of another person, except a cat or another dog, can be killed at the time of that chasing, approaching, attempt, killing, or injury. If, in attempting to kill such a dog, a person wounds it, he is not liable to prosecution under the penal laws which punish cruelty to animals.

(B) The owner, keeper, or harborer of a dog is liable in damages for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the dog, unless the injury, death, or loss was caused to the person or property of an individual who, at the time, was committing or attempting to commit a trespass or other criminal offense on the property of the owner, keeper, or harborer, or was committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense against any person, or was teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog on the owner's, keeper's, or harborer's property.

Each state is different, so make sure you read your state's laws and don't assume it will be the same as Michigan or Ohio:

Dangerous dog laws in Canada      

The disclaimer: I'm not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV...this is information I've found through research on the net and it may not be wholly accurate, so please consult an attorney in your state for information about your specific situation.