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What is the value of a dog?

lola

 

How much is a dog worth?  This is a question that is currently being decided by the Georgia Supreme Court.

Lola, pictured above, was a little mix-breed dog who slept like a human and was an integral family member.  Sadly, Lola was 8 years old when she died of renal failure.  Lola’s parents, both attorneys, allege that an Atlanta dog kennel (“kennel”) gave Lola medication she was not supposed to receive leading to her untimely death.  The kennel denies these allegations.

The kennel in question argues that pets are property and plaintiffs may only recover the market value of their property before it was destroyed.  Lola’s parents did not pay anything for rescuing Lola from the shelter.  As a result, the kennel is arguing that Lola’s parents are not entitled to any damages for any alleged negligence that might have led to Lola’s death.

However, Lola’s parents stated they spent $67,000 on veterinary and related expenses, including regular dialysis treatments, in order to keep Lola alive.  Lola’s parents are seeking to recover these monies and argue that Lola’s market value is not the question at hand.  According to Lola’s parents, “Their [the kennel’s] position is that a dog is like a toaster…when you break it, you throw it away and get a new one.  A dog is indeed property under the law, but it’s a different kind of property.”

The outcome of this case has broader implications, according to the kennel.  Specifically, “If juries are allowed to consider a deceased pet’s sentimental value and medical expenses paid by its owners, the cost for kennels and veterinary care will rise, and groups such as the American Kennel Club, the Cat Fanciers’ Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association wrote an Amicus brief in support of the kennel’s legal arguments.

According to David Favre, a law professor and expert on animal law at Michigan State University, “When it comes to damages for the death of a pet, state supreme courts have usually knocked down trial and appellate court decisions that award emotional or ‘non-economic’ damages because they view it as a slippery slope.”  However, according to Favre, “There are a small number of states that have passed legislation on recoverable damages in these types of cases.”

It will be very interesting to follow this case to see what the Court ultimately decides in this case.  Clearly, pets are living beings with unique personalities that cannot be replaced, and require constant care and regular medical care.  Thus, pets are very different as compared to a piece of property such as a toaster, a non-living object, that is easily replaceable, and most reasonable people would not spend great amounts of money to repair a toaster, for example.

However, concerning damages for the death of a pet, if juries are permitted to consider a deceased pet’s sentimental value and medical expenses paid by the human owners, perhaps the level of care by the provider, whether that be the kennel or veterinary practices, will be taken more into consideration to prevent unnecessary mistakes from happening, as there could be an adverse consequence for the providers.  When one hands over his/her pet, furry family member, to a kennel for lodging and/or to a veterinarian for medical treatment, with current laws, most human owners do not have any recourse if negligence occurs, which is unsettling.  Perhaps there needs to be a more even playing field.

*The above photo is courtesy of Lola’s family.

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