Many animal owners consider their pet to be a member of the family. They provide years of unconditional love and companionship to their caretakers. When pets die, the family feels an enormous sense of loss and grief. When the loss of a pet is the result of the negligence or willful act of another, the pain is particularly intense.
Despite that profound loss, the law does not allow for pet owners to recover damages for sorrow, mental anguish, and solace – “emotional” factors that are compensable in an action for the wrongful death of a person. In Virginia, pets are deemed to be the personal property of their owners, like an inanimate item. Just as one would be entitled to the fair market value of their car if someone negligently damaged it, pet owners are entitled to the value of their cat or dog, according to §3.2-6585 of the Code of Virginia.
The concept of value to the pet owner is impossible to quantify, as the value of friendship is immeasurable. If the law does not allow for the compensation of “emotional” or subjective factors, does value include the money that the owner shelled out for a lifetime of food, expensive medications or exorbitant kennel costs for their deceased pet? The short answer is no – the law dispassionately limits the value to the purchase price of the pet.
Like all other personal property, the law also allows for owners to claim the “diminution in the value of the property resulting from the accident, plus reasonable and necessary expenses incurred.” This could include reimbursement for damages, like veterinary costs to treat an injured pet or the cost to replace a killed animal with one of a similar breed or pedigree. If the animal was used for breeding, their monetary value may also include the lost potential revenue.
There may be one unusual instance where an owner could prevail on an “emotional” claim based on the death or injury of a pet. What if someone willfully and intentionally hurt or killed a pet because they knew how such an act would devastate or intimidate the pet’s owner? In light of this type of malicious and outrageous conduct, the aggrieved owner could make a viable claim for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. Under state animal cruelty laws, the perpetrator may also face criminal charges.
What if another person’s pet attacked and injured or killed your pet? In Virginia, there are no “strict liability” laws that automatically make owners responsible for damage caused by their animals. Thus, your recovery would rest on the ability to prove that the other owner was negligent in the handling of their animal. How is negligence established? Evidence of prior aggressive acts would be very helpful. Did the attacking pet’s owner know that their animal had dangerous tendencies, and still failed to keep it properly leashed? If so, its owner would be liable for the injuries resulting from that kind of attack. However, absent evidence of aggressive history for the attacking animal, the burden of proof is difficult to overcome.
The attorneys at Allen & Allen have experience when it comes to cases involving man’s best friend. If your dog has been injured due to the negligence of another, or you have suffered a dog bite due to a negligent dog owner, call Allen & Allen today, at 866-388-1307.