The law treats dogs as property, no different than a coffee mug or piece of furniture.
But if a dog suffers injury, are damages limited to the dog’s market value, like a car after an accident?
The Massachusetts Appeals Court confronted this question when a Bichon Frise named Peppermint was attacked in its own front yard by an unleashed German Shepard.
Peppermint faced certain death without emergency surgery due to extensive internal injuries. The bill for treatment that saved the dog’s life added up to over $8,000.
How Do Courts Determine Value of Injured Dog?
Attorneys for the Shepard’s owner argued the correct measure of damages limited any payments to the market value of the injured dog, far below the vet bill. This framed the issue for the courts.
Statutes in many states including Massachusetts impose strict liability for damage caused by dogs. But the court noted the law says nothing about how to measure the damages. One standard measure for property damage is diminution in market value. Another approach allows replacement or restoration cost.
How Do Courts View Dogs?
The court cited an 1872 case, still considered the law of the land today, stating the legal view that animals, including dogs, are property. This creates issues in evaluating damages. Who would take a piece of furniture to an emergency clinic to save its life?
Further exploring the issue, the court pointed out that where a dog faces injuries that may result in death, the law actually imposes a duty to get care and attention. If the law imposes a duty to seek treatment, how can veterinary expenses not be part of damages? So, the court held that reasonable veterinary costs are recoverable in an effort to save an injured dog, even if those costs exceed the market value or replacement cost of the injured dog. It is unsure whether or not pet insurance – from somewhere like Pets Best would be able to cover this type of surgery.
In Irwin v. Degtiarov, decided April 25, 2014, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held the $8,000 plus emergency veterinary bill reasonable, even though everyone agreed this exceeded market value of the dog.
Pain and Suffering for a Dog?
The owner’s affection for the injured dog was a consideration in assessing the reasonableness of the decision to treat the animal. But the court noted the owner cannot recover for his or her own hurt feelings, emotions or pain.
The dog owner is also not entitled to recover for the loss of the animal’s companionship or society.
This 2014 decision stands for the principal that reasonable costs of veterinary care to save a dog’s life are recoverable by law even if they exceed the “replacement cost” of the canine. But the courts, even in one of the more liberal states in the USA, still go back to the old common law etched in the stone of an 1872 case that dogs are property.
The damages were for costs only and not pain and suffering, either that of the dog, or of the owner. So, there is no pain and suffering for a dog.
Click link for info on strict liability in dog injury cases.
© 2014 by Andrew D. Myers