TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"The Proper Leash on Pet Injury Lawsuits"

Phil Goldberg (Shook Hardy) has published “Courts and Legislatures Have Kept the Proper Leash on Pet Injury Lawsuits: Why Rejecting Emotion-Based Damages Promotes the Rule of Law, Modern Value, and Animal Welfare.”

The article focuses mostly on cases involving negligence.  The article’s first part explains what owners can get under current laws, namely economic compensation for their pet as well as any reasonable and necessary medical or other expenses incurred as a result of the incident.  If the economic compensation for the pet cannot be derived through the pet’s market value, there are alternative methods for calculating damages to assure proper compensation.

 The remainder of the article captures the debate over whether the compensation can include emotion-based damages, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress and loss of companionship.  Courts and legislatures have broadly rejected these damages, and this article explains why, delving into the legal theory and social values debated when this issue arises. 

In short, courts have held that the tort system does not compensate for relational attachments, including with pets.  Courts have pointed out that this is the same reason why, for example, emotion-based damages are not compensable for harm to close personal relations, such as a cousin, fiancée, or human best friend, or for cherished personal property. 

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.


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