An Unleashed Dog Ran in Front of Our Car. Are We Responsible for the Veterinary Bills?

“I live in Michigan. My husband hit a dog with his vehicle on a very busy road. Apparently the dog received over $6,000 in medical attention, and now the owner of the dog wants us to pay the bill. He tried to claim this on my car insurance (he saw the AAA sticker in our window), but we had let our car insurance lapse during that time. Now the dog owner wants to come after us for his money. This happened over a year ago. Can we be held liable if the dog ran into the road, without a leash on, nor a fence on the property?”

The answer is “maybe.”

First off, Michigan does not have statewide leash laws, but there may be a local rule that makes the dog ostensibly negligent per se for being off leash. Assuming the dog or owner was not violating any specific laws, you are probably in a better position to judge whether or not you were volating any laws at the time of the collision – speed limit, unsafe lane change, other – for them to bolster their case.

In “animal injury as property damage cases” I reviewed, damages can be: Fair Market Value (was it a special breed or dog, otherwise a used dog does not cost so much); Consequential Damages (medical bills, however, if the dog had a market value of $1000, it does not make sense to spend $6000 in medical bills); Intrinsic Value (a pet may have value beyond resale, especially to the owner, see e.g. Corso v. Crawford Dog and Cat Hospital, Inc., 415 N.Y.S.2d 182 (N.Y.City Civ.Ct., 1979)); Punitive Damages (if the act was done with malice, there may even be criminal possibilities); Mental Anguish or Suffering of the Owner (If the owner saw the accident, this claim would be bolstered; similarly, because the dog survived damages of this nature are less likely. I did not find any Michigan cases directly on point); and Loss of Companionship (very few courts entertain these claims).

So while you can be sued, it does not seem reasonable for you to have to pay damages above the fair market value of the dog from before the accident minus the fair market value of the dog after the accident. I am not sure if you are willing to pay anything to the dog owner, but based on Michigan property damage claims, it seems that dog owner would have up to 2 years to file a claim. Whether or not a jury will award anything is unclear.