VALUE OF INJURED DOG DETERMINED BY COURT
March 14, 2013
Two totally separate “what is the value of a dog” cases, where both plaintiffs were represented by the same attorney, went to the California Court of Appeal. The outcome is interesting.
German Shepherd Shot
On the morning of February 5, 2009, Eliseo Martinez, Jr.’s two-year old German Shepherd, Gunner, got loose from his back yard and entered the property next door of Enrique Robledo. At the time, the neighbors were disputing a hedge and were not on good terms. Gunner and Robledo’s dog began barking at each other but were separated by a gate and incapable of physical contact.
That didn’t stop Robledo, who shot and wounded Gunner whose right rear leg was amputated, with veterinarian bills totaling $20,800.
Case number two. Margaret Workman took her nine-year old Golden Retriever, Katie, to a vet for surgery to remove a small liver lobe. During the procedure, the vet nicked and cut Katie’s intestine, causing internal bleeding. But that’s not all, he left a piece of surgical gauze inside her body. Never a good thing to do.
The vet did not disclose what happened but charged and was paid $4,836.
Katie soon began vomiting and went to another animal clinic for emergency surgery where they saved her life and billed Workman $37,766. The first vet offered to return the $4,836 but refused to pay the $37,766.
This reminds me of a story my dad, who was a medical doctor, told me. A surgeon friend of his had inadvertently left a sponge in a patient. In time, the patient discharged the bloody sponge and hysterically called the surgeon, who, thinking quickly, replied: “Oh that’s good news, I didn’t expect that sponge to come out for another week.”
Dog Owners Sue
Martinez and Workman sued for their dogs’ veterinarian bills claiming their dogs had a “peculiar” or “unique” value and thus were not limited to the market value of the dogs — which would be nominal.
Neighbor Robledo and the vet who worked on Katie claimed that in California the two dogs are personal property, not unlike a washing machine or a desk, and the measure of damages is: the dog’s market value or the cost of repairs, whichever is less. The trial court agreed. The owners of Gunner and Katie appealed, citing the Kimes cat case.
You may remember the Kimes case we wrote about some time ago, where a cat owner sued for life-saving emergency surgery costs of $6,000 after the neighbor shot the cat with a pellet gun. The Court of Appeal labored over whether the damages were $6,000, or the nominal market value of the cat, the usual damages in a pet case.
The Kimes court wrote: “In this case, plaintiff is not plucking a number out of the air for the sentimental value of damaged property; he seeks to present evidence of costs incurred for [the cat’s] care and treatment by virtue of the shooting – a ‘rational way’ of demonstrating a measure of damages apart from the cat’s market value.’’
Gunner’s and Katie’s owners were not seeking sentimental value or loss of companionship value which is generally not allowed; however, punitive damages for injury to a pet may sometimes be recovered if the defendant’s action was intentional or malicious.
A Dog’s Life
The Court of Appeal essentially cemented California’s evolving pet law, writing: “Given the Legislature’s historical [laws] for the proper care and treatment of animals, and the array of criminal penalties for the mistreatment of animals, as well as the reality that animals are living creatures, the usual standard of recovery for damaged personal property — market value — is inadequate when applied to injured pets … allowing an injured pet’s owner to recover the reasonable and necessary costs incurred in the treatment and care for the animal attributable to the injury is a rational and appropriate measure of damages.”
A victory for our pets, as it should be.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. He was the Governor’s appointee to the California Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, foreclosures, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at email@example.com or at the firm’s website http://www.portersimon.com.
Jim Porter: Value of injured dog determined by court