A golden retriever carries a ball through a dog park


Ronald S. Weiss Sept. 19, 2021

Dog parks are places where dogs and their owners can go to play and explore in an off-leash environment.  They're often a lot of fun for the dog and the dog owner. Unfortunately, even in dog parks with posted rules, some owners bring dogs that are too aggressive and fights and injuries between dogs can occur.

Even well-mannered dogs can sometimes provoke one another. People, too, can be bitten at parks while intervening between animals in spats, or sometimes just because one dog is having a bad day.

If you or your dog is bitten at a public dog park, who’s liable?

In a nutshell, the same laws apply in a dog park that apply on private property or out on public streets. Under both Michigan and Ohio dog laws, the owner is strictly liable for any injuries or harm caused by their dog. There is no “free ride” for the first bite, as there is in some states.

If you have been bitten while at a dog park, contact us at Ronald S. Weiss, Attorney. We are located in West Bloomfield, Michigan, and Toledo, Ohio, and we handle cases throughout both states.

Are Dog Parks Liable for Dog Bite Incidents?

Dog parks are typically erected and maintained by municipal or county agencies for the benefit of the public. As such, they enjoy broad immunity under the law. An exception might occur when the responsible governmental entity is reckless in its duties to protect the public, but this is rare.  

Dog parks also post “rules” that they require people using the parks to follow. These rules generally require the dog owners to use “reasonable” precautions and monitoring of their dogs’ behavior while in the park, though in most cases the dogs are allowed to be off-leash. If anything, the rules reinforce the standards that the state has established for dog owners.

Dog-Bites-Dog Liability

Generally, the owner of a dog that bites another dog is considered liable for any damages incurred. That is, they are responsible to compensate the victim’s owner for veterinarian and other expenses.

At times, it is difficult to determine which dog was the aggressor and which was the victim. Even in clearer-cut incidents, the owner of the biting dog may flee from the premises before the other owner can identify them. In this case, witnesses may be able to identify the owner.

The best recourse is for both owners to discuss the incident and decide between themselves how to proceed going forward, but even here, they may argue endlessly over which dog started it all.

Dog Bite Laws in Ohio

When it comes to dog bites, Ohio is a strict liability state. This means that the victim does not need to establish that the owner of the biting dog acted negligently by failing to exert reasonable control over their pet.

Ohio Revised Code Section 955.28(B) states that an "owner, keeper, or harborer" of a dog is liable for any injury caused by the animal, unless:

  • The injured person was “teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog,” or

  • The injured person was "committing or attempting to commit criminal trespass or another criminal offense other than a minor misdemeanor"

The statute also applies to injuries that the dog caused even if there is no bite.  For instance, if the dog knocks someone over and that person is injured, the owner is equally liable. Also, the statute carves out a trespassing exception for “solicitors'' who come onto someone’s property for purposes of solicitation. Solicitors are entitled to compensation for any injury caused by the dog on the property.  The trespass exception doesn't typically come into play in a dog park as the property is open to the public.  

Ohio mandates different rules for dogs that are classified as “dangerous dogs.”  Also, each municipality provides its own leash law requirements.  

In Ohio, the statute of limitations for filing a legal action against an owner for a dog-related injury is typically two years from the date of the incident.  The statute of limitation is another area that can be tricky and we'd highly encourage you to call our office to discuss the specific circumstances of your situation.  

Dog Bite Laws in Michigan

Michigan is also a strict liability state. According to MCL Section 287.351, the dog’s owner “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.” Unlike Ohio, however, Michigan’s strict liability law does not apply to injuries caused by other than bites, such as being knocked over.  The common law may help to support a non-bite injury, but that requires knowledge of caselaw.

Somewhat similar to Ohio, Michigan also exempts the owner if the dog is provoked, or if the injured party is not “lawfully” on the private property where the bite occurs (that is, they are trespassing).  If you are on the property legally but are there to commit a crime or other unlawful activity, you are liable for your own injuries.

Michigan does maintain a leash law, and each municipality may have its own provisions.  The statute of limitation is typically three years, except for minors under 18 who are injured. The statute of limitation is another area that can be tricky and we'd highly encourage you to call our office to discuss the specific circumstances of your case.  

Ronald S. Weiss, Attorney: Experience You Can Trust

Property and renter’s insurance will often cover dog bites even when they occur off of the owner’s property. 

If you or your loved one has suffered extensive injuries or emotional trauma, you may need to file a personal injury lawsuit, which opens compensation for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering.

At Ronald S. Weiss, Attorney, we have more than 80 years of combined experience in dealing with dog bite injury claims. Contact us immediately for a free case evaluation if you or a loved one has suffered dog injuries in Ohio or Michigan.