Wednesday, February 6, 2013


I had posted an earlier blog last year about how an appellate court upheld an award of emotional distress damages to a couple that owned a dog when their neighbor attacked it with a baseball bat, injuring it.  The CA Supreme Court refused to review the appellate court decision, so the dog owners' damages claim is now a done deal.  Again, this represents a significant shift in the law, where traditionally most courts have disallowed emotional distress claims related to pet injuries.

The current state of the law is therefore that emotional distress damages are allowable to the pet owner if their pet has been intentionally injured (ie., via the situation hereinabove), but not when their pet has been only negligently injured (ie., like an errant motorist hitting a stray in the roadway, or a veterinarian being sued for malpractice because of a procedure being performed with complications on a pet).

The recent appellate decisions also appear to allow the recovery of vet bills to treat an injured animal, even when the bills exceed the fair market value (FMV) of the pet.  Contrast this to the situation wherein if your motor vehicle has been damaged in an accident, that your damages are limited to the cost of repair or the FMV of the vehicle, whichever is less.

The arguments against allowing emotional distress damages for the loss or injury to a family pet are essentially twofold:  (1)  If emotional distress damages are to be allowed, then to how many family members is such relief to be granted; and (2)  parents who suffer the injury or death of a minor child due to the negligence of another are not normally allowed damages for emotional distress unless they contemporaneously witness the injury or death of the child, and in the case of the death of a child the parents are limited to the loss of future financial support the child would have arguably provided them had the child lived, plus the "loss of society" of the deceased child.

This is an evolving area of California law, but it definitely appears that the courts are starting to recognize the unique bond that family pets share with their human owners, and are translating it into a remedy when the pet is injured.