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Trespassing in Relation to Dog Bite Laws

Notice that the Michigan statute, MCLA §287.351, relieves the dog owner of liability, where the dog bite victim is not on the property lawfully. The law recognizes that many people keep dogs, not just as loving pet-members of the family, but also for the security and protectiveness they bring to the household. Dogs are "pack" animals, and they instinctively protect their "packs", which in this situation, refers to the households in which they live.

If some unfamiliar person came onto our property, what would we want our dogs to do? We would want them to alert us, and to give us an opportunity to see if that person were welcome, or at least if their presence were appropriate (door-to-door fundraisers, pizza deliveries, etc). If there was an unwanted intruder, we would want the dog to bark, and to sound aggressive; if that intruder really posed a threat, we would want our dog to protect us, and the rest of his "pack."

Are Trespassers Eligible to Collect Money?

Under Michigan law, if the bite victim is trespassing, he/she collects nothing, even if they posed no real physical threat. Trespassers do not collect.

Another form of "trespassers" the statute explicitly refers to, are those who come onto the property, with full permission, yet are somehow there for a criminal purpose. It is hard to imagine having someone come to your property, who themselves might have a criminal purpose for being there. Maybe the statute refers to "casing the property", e.g., planning for a robbery. Maybe it refers to the party guest, who goes upstairs, and looks around at the jewelry boxes. I think the statute is broad enough to cover even a situation, where someone comes onto the property, for another more subtle unlawful purpose, e.g., to financially victimize an elderly dog owner. Again, this will be a fact-by-fact analysis, and you should talk with Jon Frank, to see what your rights are.

Learn more about Michigan Dog Bite Laws & Protections.

A dog owner will not be liable if it can be shown that the bite victim somehow provoked the dog. There is no hard and fast rule as to what constitutes provocation; it should be judged on a case by case basis, which means it should be decided by a jury, at time of trial, and not by a judge on a Motion for Dismissal (aka Motion for Summary Disposition; see Civil Court Procedure page)
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The term "common-law" merely refers to the body of law that has developed over time, from accumulating appellate court cases, dealing with specific subjects. Generally speaking, when a cases is appealed to a higher court, that higher court's ruling can have the force of law, because that higher court is interpreting what they consider to be the then current state of the law, on any particular subject. The term "common-law negligence" merely refers to the body of law that has developed over time, on the specific subject of negligence, its elements and defenses.
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Non-ownership of the dog, is a defense only to the strict liability provisions of MCLA §287.351. For example, if you are babysitting a dog, while its owner is out-of-town, and (heaven forbid) the dog attacks someone on your property, you cannot be sued under the strict liability provisions of the statute, nor can you sue the dog-sitter under the statute. However, you can sue and be sued, under a theory of common-law negligence, which is preserved in Michigan law under MCLA §287.288.
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