Golden Retriever Outdoors

Dogs Are Incredible Family Pets - We Still have to Control them

Ronald S. Weiss, Attorney Oct. 14, 2022

Dogs are incredible family pets.  In fact, to many, if not most dog owners, dogs become more than pets, they become family members.   

I recently read a horrible story about an elderly woman in San Bernardino California.  2 Dogo Argentino dogs were at large and they attacked the woman.  The injuries that the dogs inflicted ultimately took this woman’s life.  Two large animals against an elderly person is a tough combination. 

That story reminds me of the importance of controlling our actions.  As individuals, we are responsible for our actions and the results of our actions.  That is something we learned early in life.  Pet ownership is simply an extension of the concept of personal responsibility.  We have to protect our dogs from harm, and we have to prevent our dogs from causing harm.  Even if our furry friends are family members, we need to control their actions.   

In Michigan and Ohio, the law imposes strict responsibility for our dog’s actions on the dog owner.  In addition, many cities and townships in both states have leash laws.  Even in cities that don’t have leash requirements, the dog owner must control the animal.  Dogs are simply not supposed to run at large.   

If those seemingly aggressive dogs in California were on a leash or in their home, then this tragic attack would not have happened.  There are many dog attacks that involved dogs that were not under the owner’s control.  We receive many calls from people that sustained injuries arising from dog bites and attacks.   

In Michigan, that strict responsibility on the dog owner means that if the dog bites a person, the owner is responsible for the resulting injuries.  There are only a few, limited exceptions to the general rule of strict liability.  If, for example, a person was trespassing, then the dog owner may have a way out of liability for the actions of his or her pet.  Also, if the injured person provoked the dog, then that strict liability is eliminated.  The specific facts typically require careful analysis by an attorney familiar with the issues in these cases.   

Similarly, in Ohio, the law imposes strict liability on the owner, harborer or keeper of a dog when that dog bites a person.  Ohio has a similar exception when the injured person was a trespasser.  Also, if the injured person teased, tormented or abused the dog, then the dog owner likely would be free from the strict liability under the dog bite statute.   

As with most legal cases, there is often much more that goes into the analysis than reading a rule.  There are other laws that can apply to a specific situation, so again, it is imperative to discuss a bite with an attorney that handles these cases.  My office regularly handles dog bite cases throughout Michigan and Ohio.  

When a dog attacks a person that is simply walking along a road, then the owner must be responsible for the resulting injuries.  I like to take advantage of a local rails to trails path and I see many avoidable dog incidents.  My office receives many calls from other outdoor enthusiasts that sustained dog bites while enjoying the fresh air.  When the dog owners control their dogs, there are far fewer attacks.