Jim Porter: What is the value of your injured pet?
Special to the Sun
TAHOE/TRUCKEE and#8212; If someone shoots your beloved cat or dog, the one you picked up for free at the animal shelter, may you recover the animaland#8217;s sentimental value as a companion or are you limited to the petand#8217;s nominal monetary value? That was the question for Kevin Kimes and his cute cat Pumkin.
Kevin Kimes claimed his cat Pumkin was shot with a pellet gun by neighbor Charles Grosser, while perched on a fence on his property. The local vet saved the catand#8217;s life, but the surgery cost $6,000, and Pumkin was partially paralyzed, causing Kevin an additional $30,000 in expenses caring for Pumkin.
Kevin sued Grosser, who defended, claiming Pumkin was and#8220;an adopted stray of very low economic value,and#8221; so his damages were limited to the kittyand#8217;s fair market value and#8212; essentially nothing. The trial court ruled for Grosser. You can imagine how Kevin Kimes felt.
The normal pet rule
The Court of Appeal hearing this case discussed the usual rule (the and#8220;Tootsieand#8221; case) when someone sues a person who negligently injures their pet, concluding and#8220;in the case of a pet, and#8216;peculiar valueand#8217; … refers to special characteristics, which increase the animaland#8217;s monetary value, not its abstract value as a companion to its owner.and#8221; I.e. the loss of a pet as a companion is not compensable. We wrote about poor little and#8220;Tootsieand#8221; in late 2009.
Reasonable veterinary treatment
The Court analyzed another California case where someone had negligently burned down the plaintiffand#8217;s house destroying scrapbooks and other data of particular value to the plaintiff. That court allowed recovery, even though the scrapbooks had no market value.
This Court of Appeal seemed to want to rule for Kevin Kimes, so it looked at Civil Code §3333 also Evidence Code §823, which reads, and#8220;the value of property for which there is no relevant, comparable market may be determined by any method of valuation that is just and equitable.and#8221;
The justices went on to rule that a proper measure of damages in a case involving injuries suffered by a pet is the reasonable and necessary cost of veterinary treatment. So while Kevin was not allowed to recover emotional distress or loss of companionship, he could recover his vet bills, although the defendant/shooter of the cat may present evidence that those expenses were unreasonable. Good luck with that Charles Grosser.
Expanding the law
So while Kevin Kimes recovered his catand#8217;s vet bills, as that method of valuation was deemed and#8220;just and equitable,and#8221; it seems to me if someoneand#8217;s pet is negligently injured or killed and there are no vet bills, they still may be able to recover under the two codes cited above and#8212; for the sentimental value of the lost pet. But the and#8220;Tootsieand#8221; case says otherwise.
But Kevin Kimes is also allowed to recover punitive damages if he can prove that the shooting was willful: and#8220;for wrongful injuries to animals, being subjects of property, committed willfully or by gross negligence, in disregard of humanity, exemplary (punitive) damages may be given.and#8221; As it should be.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governorand#8217;s appointee to the Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. He may be reached at email@example.com or at the firmand#8217;s web site http://www.portersimon.com.