Angry dog aggressively barking and defending his territory

Do Beware of Dog Signs Protect the Dog Owner?

Ronald S. Weiss, Attorney Oct. 5, 2023

In Michigan and Ohio, many dog owners hang “beware of dog” signs on their properties to accomplish two things: avoid house break-ins and, as they think, protect them from liability in the event of a dog bite. While these signs may be effective in deterring criminals, they may not protect owners from liability for dog bites in the vast majority of cases.  

If you have been bitten by a dog and the owner says you cannot hold them responsible because there was a “beware of dog” sign, contact our team -- Ron and Gerald Weiss. As dog bite attorneys with decades of experience, we can evaluate the facts of your case and help you identify potential liability issues in your case. We handle cases throughout both Michigan and Ohio.   

Understanding Liability in Dog Bite Cases  

Some states use the “one-bite” rule when it comes to determining liability in dog bite cases. Under this rule, if a dog bites someone for the first time, there will not automatically be liability like there would be in the strict liability states.

Appropriately and thankfully, neither Michigan nor Ohio uses the one-bite rule. Instead, these two states have adopted strict liability laws to make dog owners liable for all bites, even if the dog has never shown any signs of aggressive behavior. However, there are certain exceptions to the strict liability law. Dog owners generally cannot be held liable in dog bite cases if (a) the victim provoked the animal, or (b) the victim was trespassing at the time of the incident.  There is more to the exceptions, but that's best left to an attorney familiar with the law.

Do “Beware of Dog” Signs Provide Legal Protection?  

“Beware of dog” signs are a common sight on properties around Michigan and Ohio. Many dog owners use the “beware of dog” sign because they mistakenly believe that it will give them absolute legal protection or defense if their dog attacks someone. However, this sign does not provide protection from liability in most cases, though it is fair to say that the dog owner may attempt to use it as a mitigating factor in some cases.  

These signs can be useful to provide warning to invited and uninvited guests, visitors, neighbors, delivery workers, and anyone else who enters the property as a way to encourage them to exercise caution on the property. However, if the dog bites someone, the owner can be held strictly liable regardless of whether the “beware of dog” (or any other) sign was posted.  

Other Measures to Mitigate Liability  

As mentioned earlier, signs warning about the presence of a dog on the property may help reduce the number of attacks, in certain circumstances. However, some argue that the “beware of dog” sign could actually increase the owner’s liability as it may be interpreted as the owner’s acknowledgment that they have an aggressive dog that people should beware of. Instead, it may be more appropriate to use a “dog present,” “dog on premises,” or similar signs to alert anyone entering the property that there is a dog on the property, which could potentially help mitigate liability to a certain degree in the event of a dog bite.  Either way, strict liability is strict liability, and other than the limited few exceptions, the general rule is that the dog owner is responsible for the injuries his or her dog causes in an attack.

Another way a dog owner could reduce liability is to make sure that their dog is properly restrained at all times. The laws of both Michigan and Ohio do not permit pet dogs to run loose. While there are certain areas where dogs may be allowed to run free (e.g., dog parks), all dogs must be on a leash in any public place.  

Nonetheless, despite the dog owner’s best efforts to reduce liability – by placing signs warning about a dog on their property and properly restraining their pet – they may not be able to avoid liability if the animal actually attacks or bites someone.  

Talk to an Attorney to Learn More 

Surviving a dog attack can be a scary and traumatizing experience. If you or your child has been bitten by a dog, attorneys Ron and Gerald Weiss can help you pursue the compensation to which you are entitled regardless of whether the “beware of dog” sign was posted, or any other precautionary measures were taken by the owner. Reach out to our office today to discuss the owner’s liability in your particular situation.