Why the courts have properly kept a leash on them:
The article concludes that keeping emotion-based damages out of pet litigation is, ultimately, what is best for pets themselves. Adding new, uncertain liability to pet litigation would cause the price of pet welfare services and products prices to rise. If owners cannot afford to pay these higher costs, then many pets will not get the care they need.
[Phil Goldberg, Stanford Journal of Animal Law & Policy]
George Will’s syndicated column today salutes the Texas high court for preserving the traditional common-law rule against damages for animal companionship and sentimental value, thus declining to jump off an emotionally alluring cliff:
Texas’ Supreme Court decided to distinguish between dogs and heirlooms “such as a wedding veil, pistol” — this is Texas — “jewelry, handmade bedspreads and other items going back several generations.”
Noting that the Medlens “find it odd that Texas law would permit sentimental damages for loss of an heirloom but not an Airedale,” [Justice Don] Willett rejoined that it would be even odder if Texans could recover wrongful-death damages for the loss of a Saint Bernard but not for a brother Bernard.
Laconically noting that “the law is no stranger to incongruity,” Willett explained that “permitting sentiment-based damages for destroyed heirloom property portends nothing resembling the vast public-policy impact of allowing such damages in animal-tort cases.”
A veterinarian-dreaded development: “Fort Worth’s 2nd Court of Appeals has ruled that value can be attached to the love of a dog, overruling a 120-year-old case in which the Texas Supreme Court held that plaintiffs can only recover for the market value of their pets.” [Texas Lawyer, earlier]
George Wallace reports:
Late [July 31], the California Court of Appeal issued its decision in the case of McMahon v. Craig, holding unequivocally that California law does not permit an animal owner to recover damages for his or her emotional distress at the injury or death of an animal caused by negligence, and that there can be no recovery of damages for loss of the companionship of a non-human companion.
The report is first-hand, for it was blogger Wallace who represented the winning side in the case. Congratulations are in order.
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.
A snapshot from Massachusetts of the campaign (national in scope) to create rights to sue for intangible damages against veterinarians, motorists, and others judged to have negligently killed a pet. Debra Campanile of Haverhill is on a mission to enact such a law, which, along with provisions for unbounded emotional distress damages, would require punitive damages to be awarded in a sum of at least $2,500. The story does not specify whether the $2,500 would be payable per incident or per actual creature whose life was ended, which could make quite a difference in the case of negligently knocking over Billy’s ant farm. (Laurel J. Sweet, “Push for liability in animal deaths would put….”, Boston Herald, Mar. 10).
The Vermont Supreme Court is considering the issue, which we’ve repeatedly covered (May 25; Dec. 29 and links therein); in a Fox News report, person after person argues that such damages should be available to deter animal cruelty, each of whom disregards the availability of punitive damages for intentional torts. The main effect of such “rights” would be to make pet care largely unaffordable for the poor so that a handful of wealthy pet owners would be able to collect larger damages awards from veterinarians.
Stephanie Mencimer is predictably in favor of more litigation (singling out “Ted Frank and his Overlawyered buddies” for some reason, though there is only one Walter Olson), but her reasoning is unusual. Mencimer tells the tale of her battle with a next-door neighbor pet spa, and complains that there is a shortage of kennels, which, she says, causes sub-par care of dogs. Lawsuits, she concludes, would fix this problem. That she thinks raising the cost of providing a service will solve the problem of a shortage of service providers bespeaks a certain economic illiteracy that perhaps explains her reflexive opposition to liability reform.
Mike Cernovich makes the case against “loss of companionship” damages (Aug. 23). Earlier coverage: Dec. 29, 2005, etc.; see also May 25, 2006.
Just as a media boomlet was getting started, a Clackamas County judge has ruled that Oregon law does not permit Mark Greenup and his family to seek loss-of-companionship damages over their neighbor’s having run over their mixed cocker spaniel-Labrador retriever, Grizz, an injury for which they were asking a cool $1.625 million. The case had been touted as a potential breakthrough in the campaign to authorize essentially unlimited monetary damages over the human unhappiness caused when a pet is killed or injured (see May 10, 2005, etc.) and advocates thought they had an unusually sympathetic fact pattern to work with: the Greenups’ neighbor, Raymond Weaver, had been convicted of first-degree animal abuse. Once the principle of damages for loss of companionship had been established, of course, it would be likely to spread to contexts where simple negligence was alleged on the part of veterinarians, drivers or animal handlers. Circuit Judge Eve Miller permitted the Greenups to seek punitive damages and intentional infliction of emotional stress against Weaver (who continues to deny that he harmed the dog intentionally) but said loss-of-companionship damages are barred by Oregon law. (“Judge rejects part of dog lawsuit claim”, AP/Roseburg (Ore.) News-Review, May 23; Steve Mayes, “Case Could Redefine Value of a Pet”, Newhouse/The Oregonian, May 23; “US neighbours in dead dog lawsuit “, BBC, May 23; letters to the editor, The Oregonian, May 24).
P.S. While we’re at it, what a very bad idea: federal mandates for pet evacuation plans.
Disturbed at the growth of recent sizable rulings and requests for non-economic damages for pets (Sep. 7; Mar. 8; Nov. 21, 2003; Jul. 30, 2003), the Animal Health Institute is lobbying for liability reform that precludes such damages. (Judy Sarasohn, “Tort Watch for Animal Lovers”, Washington Post, Dec. 29).