Dog bite expert & animal behavior specialist

Richard H. Polsky, PhD, CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

Dr. Richard Polsky - The Dog Expert

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Trespass no defense to pit bull mauling of 6 y.o. girl in Michigan

The owner of pit bulls that mauled a 6-year-old girl in August, 2010 in Jackson County, Michigan was found guilty of harboring dangerous animals.Beware of dog

The defense argued that the girl was a trespasser, therefore mitigating whatever conclusions could be drawn about the dangerous nature of the dogs in question. When the incident happened, the pit bulls were confined in the backyard of the owner’s property, and beware of dog signs were clearly posted.

Prosecutors argued that a six-year-old child was incapable of trespass, which would allow the jury to conclude that the dogs were dangerous by nature. In Michigan, if a person is attacked by a dog through an act of trespass, then the dog cannot be declared dangerous according to Michigan law.

In this instance, however, aside from the age of the victim, other factors probably played a role in jury rendering a guilty verdict. For example, the breed of the dogs in question, the fact that multiple dogs were involved in the attack, the sympathy of the jury for a young child, and evidence about past aggressive episodes by these pit bull dogs.  Considering these factors, it is likely that defense lawyers had little chance of defending their client against the criminal charges of keeping dangerous dogs. In addition, from an animal behavior perspective, the notion of trespass is a legal concept and should not be used as criteria to determine whether the dogs were dangerous or not.

In general, the verdict is consistent with law in most states in that young children are incapable of either trespass or provocation in dog bite cases.