Emotional value of lost pets, cont’d

by Walter Olson on September 18, 2008

A veterinary malpractice suit aims to overturn Georgia’s adherence to the traditional rule barring damage recovery for intangible pet companionship value. Not that it’s about you-know-what: “Money is not the object here,” says Kathryn Sutton about 13-year-old miniature Schnauzer Marshall. (D.L. Bennett, “Animal rights drive dog lawsuit”, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sept. 15). Earlier here, here, here, here, here, etc.

{ 10 comments }

1 JsinGood 09.18.08 at 3:00 pm

Of course, it’s $75,000 worth of not-about-the-money.

2 John Burgess 09.18.08 at 5:24 pm

Ten bucks for the animal, ten bucks for the emotional distress. Next.

If someone is so emotionally engaged in his/her pet that this does not suffice, then that someone needs a serious rewiring, IMO.

If one can prove that there was direct cruelty directed against the animal–not medical procedures that failed to work as hoped–then let animal cruelty laws kick in with their punishments.

3 Ron Miller 09.18.08 at 9:18 pm

Please John. I don’t care what value you put on an animal’s life. Even if you think the animal life is worth only $10 (which I think is ridiculous), man’s love for animals – dogs in particuarly – is not something that needs rewiring. In many of us, defenseless animals bring out our better angels.

I’m against this type of lawsuit because I don’t think we are able as a society can open up a new can of worms of trying to value the lives of animals or their loss to their providers. But I’m really against people mocking their loss with a “here is $10″ superior tone. There is a correlation between people that talk this way about animals and people that are cavalier about human suffering as well. Not a one on one correlation, but a correlation.

4 nevins 09.18.08 at 10:54 pm

Vets can place a checkbox on the price list, with appropriate differences for the potential cost. Owners would either define their pet under the traditional property rule, or define their pet as important sources of emotional support.
The advantages are twofold for the vet. He could decline to take on care, or charge more for those who want a higher liability standard. Also, by recognizing which clients are more attached to their pets, they could properly market more aggressive, more expensive, and just plain more healthcare to folks who are possibly going to spend more (that is, if it’s not about the money, then the pet owner should freely open their wallet).

5 John Burgess 09.18.08 at 11:32 pm

I’m not making mock of animals. I’ve had pets, I enjoy (most) pets. I am making serious mock over people who lose all sense of proportion and begin to think of their animals as people… no, actually better than people.

We’ve already gone down the road of ‘every life is priceless’, all the way to the loony bin. We most certainly need to avoid taking our pets down the same road.

If an individual wishes to put so much value on an accessory or even a ‘companion’, fine. But the individual is the one placing the valuation, not society, not the law, not any ‘higher moral code’. The pet owner should bear the costs and consequences of imbuing such value. Those are abstractions that are, by definition, unavailable to objective valuation. If there is no possibility of deriving an objective valuation, then the valuation should be statutorily fixed at some token amount.

Okay, maybe $10 was low-balling it. I could accept replacement value of the creature as reasonable, but absolutely not for pain and suffering, as those are utterly subjective to the pet owner.

6 Frank 09.19.08 at 10:46 am

Put me down on the personal property side.

There has been only a small portion of my life that I did not own a pet.

When they have died, I have cried every time.

$10 isn’t that much of a low-ball. My last two cats were free, spay/neuter is often donated or discounted so lets say $20 is a reasonable price to pay to own something living that one can love.

It will buy that chance to love and care for a living thing time and again.

I agree that these people specifically have a “wiring” problem. They owned a very sick, 13 year old dog. It died. What did they think was going to happen? If not yesterday, then soon enough.

A brief scan of the ‘net indicates an estimated average life span for this breed as ranging from 9-16 years – such span coincidently giving an age of mortality as 13 years.

They should cry, then get another dog if they want.

7 Ron Miller 09.19.08 at 3:41 pm

I like __________, I actually have some friends that are ___________. That is another version of what we are seeing here: I’m a pet owner but …. I don’t care about the value – I’m not interested in the monetary price. My whole point was the wiring comment.

I’m not necessarily disagreeing on the valuation question but I find it odd to read “put me down as personal property” and “I cried everytime” together in the same post.

Is it really necessary to judge and question the “wiring” over how someone absorbs a loss? Any loss, I don’t care it is human loved one, a pet, or a loss to Bo Bo’s Bar and Grill in softball.

8 John Burgess 09.19.08 at 10:00 pm

The value ascribed to the loss of something emotionally important to the individual is, in many courts, seemingly without limit. I believe it impossible to tell, by looking or listening, to tell who suffered the $2 billion loss of companionship and who suffered the $10 loss.

Are we to take the plaintiff’s assessment at face value? I hope not. Neither judges nor juries should be put in the position of having to decide whose loss is real and significant and whose is meritless or over-valued.

Thus, a one-size-fits-all resolution, a statutory value on the creature, absent a true and ascertainable cost of replacement, would provide the best solution, in my opinion.

I’m either amused or worried that the comment above seems to be inching toward equating ‘specieism’ with racism. That is exactly the direction I don’t want courts (or society) taking.

9 JTT 09.20.08 at 5:32 pm

I have always thought that tort law undercompensated pet injury/death plaintiffs and still do. The rule that animal losses should be compensated merely as property evolved in days before pets were treated as they are today.

10 yclipse 09.20.08 at 9:13 pm

Allow the claim. Add a statutory cap at $3,000. No lawyer will take the case.

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