I am dedicating this post to my dog Marlee, because I would bring the same action here in New York if someone caused her death. I am referring to a National Law Journal article that discusses a Colorado case that makes it clear that dogs are more than just property.
In this Denver case, a dog owner sued a house cleaning company, which let her dog, Ruthie, get away and be hit by a car, despite the owner giving specific instructions to not let the dog outside except for the backyard. She sued for negligence and emotional distress and was awarded $65,000. I note these heartless workers merely brought Ruthie inside after she was hit and did not bring her to a vet or even notify the owner the dog was injured. This evidence of negligence was very helpful to plaintiff’s case.
This appears to be a precedent-setting case because courts around the country have a history of treating pets like property such as furniture, by ruling they are only worth replacement value. It appears this case is the highest award for a pet owner in Colorado history.
The article quotes plaintiff’s counsel Jennifer Edwards (and founder of The Animal Law Center), “The ruling sets a damages precedent that animals are worth more than their replacement value. When we lose a pet, we do suffer emotional distress and heartache, just as we would with any other member of our families.”
The article also mentions a recent ruling by a Texas appellate court that modified a 120-year-old precedent where plaintiffs could only recover an animal’s market value. The court held that, “Because of the special position pets hold in their family, we see no reason why existing law should not be interpreted to allow recovery in the loss of a pet at least to the same extent as any other personal property.” This holding allows plaintiffs to seek awards based on intrinsic or sentimental value.
Because I wear two hats in my professional life (lawyer & legislator), I am going to bring this issue to the New York State Legislature and see if we need to adjust New York State law to ensure that pet owners can seek these types of damages when losing a pet due to negligence. We lost our dog Oakley to natural causes last year and that was hard enough – it would have been incredibly worse if he died due to another person’s negligence.
James Maisano, Esq. is a practicing attorney who also serves on the Westchester County Board of Legislators. You can follow Jim on www.JamesMaisanoEsq.com, or on his Legal Blog. He can be contacted at Jim@JamesMaisanoEsq.com or (914) 636-1621