Dog Bite at a Garage Sale? There’s a Law for That

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It may not feel like it right now, but spring is coming. And with spring cleaning comes the first garage sale wave. But what happens if a host doesn’t restrain their dog? Can you collect for a dog bite at a garage sale? Does it matter if the sale is officially closed by the time you get there?

A recently published Michigan Court of Appeals case looks at what happens when a garage sale visitor suffers a dog bite, both under the state statute and general “premises liability” law. Nita Lint held a garage sale at her home in August 2013. Carolyn Kelsey attended the sale on Friday, then returned Saturday around 5:00pm to inquire after an item. By that time, the garage sale had ended and Lint had packed up. As Kelsey stepped out of her car, Lint’s dog came around from behind the house and bit Kelsey’s leg. Kelsey sued under the Michigan dog-bite statute and premises liability, because Lint knew the dog was violent and failed to control it.

Michigan Dog Bite Law Covers Garage Sale Accidents

Michigan’s dog bite statute, MCL 287.351, says that when a dog bites a person, the dog owner is liable for damages caused by the bite as long as it happened on public property or when the dog bite victim is legally present on private property (even the dog owner’s home). It doesn’t matter if the dog had a history of viciousness, or the breed of the dog.

When a dog owner holds a garage sale, the Court of Appeals said that person is inviting the public onto her property. She is therefore responsible to take reasonable steps against injury while they are there, including properly controlling her dog. If the dog gets loose and there is a dog bit at a garage sale, Michigan’s dog-bite statute makes the owner responsible for the harm done.

After-Hours Garage Sale Follow Up Raised Premises Liability Questions

What made Kelsey’s dog bite case more complicated was the fact that it happened after the garage sale was closed. Lint and her lawyers said she was no longer welcome on the property, so the dog was just doing its job to protect its territory. The court said whether the owner was liable or not depended on Kelsey’s status on the property. In Michigan premises liability law, possible plaintiffs fall into 3 categories:

  • Invitees, who are expressly invited onto the property (for business or personal reasons)
  • Licensees, who have a legal reason to be on the property
  • Trespassers, who have no legal reason to be on the property

During the garage sale, Kelsey and other shoppers were invitees. But what about after the sale was over? Premises liability and the dog-bite statute both require dog owners to take reasonable steps to control their animal unless the dog is responding to an illegal trespasser or is there to commit a crime.

“No Trespassing” and Implied License

In Michigan, and the U.S. more generally, visitors have an “implied license” to come up the walk and knock on a homeowner’s door. It applies to everyone from police officers to Girl Scouts. Unless a homeowner hangs a “no trespassing” sign or installs a fence and gate, courts will assume they follow cultural norms.

Lint had a small “no soliciting” sign hanging on her door. She said that sign made Kelsey a trespasser. But the Court of Appeals said the sign was not visible from the driveway where Kelsey was injured, so she wouldn’t know she was not welcome. The judges said that was enough for the dog bite and premises liability claims to go to a jury.

Dog bites can cause serious injury requiring ongoing treatment. When a dog owner fails to control his or her dog, the consequences can be painful and expensive. At Macomb Law Group, our personal injury attorneys can help you understand how the law works and get the recovery you deserve. If you or a loved one have been seriously injured by a dog bite, contact Macomb Law Group and get our team working for you.



  • James Spagnuolo

    I began working in personal injury law more than 20 years ago, starting as a law clerk during my first year of law school at Wayne State University School of Law in Detroit. After passing the bar exam in 2002, I went on to become a partner at a series of law firms before opening the Macomb Law Group in 2017.

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