Law Review: Beloved dog’s cremated ashes thrown out by crematorium, owner sues for emotional distress
The North Lake Tahoe-Truckee area is what some folks call “dog country.” Indeed, we love our companions. So how would you feel if you paid extra to have your deceased daughter’s favorite dog’s ashes cremated – when instead the crematorium sent you some other pet’s ashes?
BELOVED PET DOGS WESLEY AND WINNIE
Hillarie and Keith Levy paid extra to their vet to have their daughter’s beloved dog Winnie cremated so they could bury the ashes with her. She died of cancer when she was 29. A year later the Levy’s paid to have little Wesley cremated.
When the ashes were returned to the Levy’s by the crematorium Only Cremations for Pets, Inc., hired by the vet, something was wrong. Wesley’s remains were heavier than Winnie’s and Winnie was a much larger dog. When the owner of Only Cremations for Pets, Inc. was evasive and sent the Levy’s two dozen white roses, they knew something was fishy. In fact, the crematorium had mixed the two family dog’s ashes with other pets.
DOG OWNER VERSUS CREMATORIUM
The Levy’s sued Only Cremations for Pets. The trial court ruled against them concluding that the Levy’s had a cremation contract with their vet, not Only Cremations. The trial court also ruled there is no legal claim for emotional distress damages for the loss of a pet’s cremated remains. The Levy’s appealed.
MAN’S BEST FRIEND
The Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal focused on the importance of dogs to their owners writing, “There are no other domestic animals to which the owner or his family can become more strongly attached, or the loss of which will be more keenly felt… We have come a long way from the old common law concept of a dog not even being considered property. Not only is he more than property today, he is a subject of sonnets, the object of song, the symbol of loyalty. Indeed, he is man’s best friend.”
The Court of Appeal allowed the Levy’s case to proceed against Only Cremations for Pets for contract damages, negligence, and emotional distress. And rightly so, as the evidence suggests that Only Cremations had a practice of charging extra fees for separate (vs group) cremations, while apparently mixing the ashes with other animals, then returning those unknown ashes to pet owners. As low as you can go.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at email@example.com or http://www.portersimon.com.
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