CA court rules pet owners can sue for more than 'market value'

A California appeals court recently sided with pet owners in two cases where the owners were attempting to sue for damages beyond the animals’ market value.

The decision sets another precedent in the legal system’s efforts to legally and monetarily define a pet’s value.

The Second District Court of Appeals wrote in its opinion filed Oct. 23: “We hold that a pet owner is not limited to the market value of the pet and may recover the reasonable and necessary costs incurred for the treatment and care of the pet attributable to the injury.”

Instead of tackling the subject of sentimental value, which has been a thorny issues for courts in other states, the appeals court based its decision on the actual costs paid by owners to treat their pets following an injury.

Case summaries
In the first case considered by the Second District Court of Appeals, a woman took her dog to have a small liver lobe removed. According to the court documents, the veterinarian allegedly “nicked and cut” the dog’s intestine during surgery, causing internal bleeding. The veterinarian also reportedly left a piece of surgical gauze inside of the dog.

The woman spent $4,836.16 on the initial surgery, and then paid an emergency hospital $37,766.06 to stop the resulting internal bleeding and remove the gauze. She filed her lawsuit after the veterinarian reportedly offered to refund the $4,836.16 but refused her requests for money related to the emergency hospital fees.

The second case involved a dog that escaped into a yard next door and began barking at the neighbor’s dog. The neighbor shot the dog in the leg and claimed it was self-defense even though the dogs were still separated by a gate. Veterinarians were  eventually forced to amputate the leg, and the dog’s owner sued the neighbor for $20,789.81 in veterinary bills.

In those two cases, trial courts ruled that the owners could only sue for market value, which prompted them to bring their cases to appeals court.

Ruling details
The ruling from the appeals court reversed the previous decisions and allowed the owners to sue for more than market value ― as long as the amount is based on “reasonable and necessary” costs related to the animal’s treatment.

In the court’s written opinion, the judge explained that a previous case ― Kimes, supra, 195 Cal.App.4th 1556 ― heavily influenced the court’s ruling.

In the Kimes case, the owner of an adopted stray cat sued his neighbors after they allegedly shot the pet with a pellet gun and left it paralyzed. The owner’s lawsuit asked for $6,000 for the emergency surgery as well as $30,000 for costs incurred while caring for the cat.

According to the appeals court, the opinion in the Kimes case stated: “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.”

The Second District Court of Appeals further explained its position by referring to animals using the terms “sentient beings” and “distinct and specially protected form of property,” which are terms that many courts have historically refrained from using.

The court stated: “In California, the Legislature has recognized since 1872 that animals are special, sentient beings, because unlike other forms of property, animals feel pain, suffer and die. Civil Code section 3340 provides that ― [f]or wrongful injuries to animals being subjects of property, committed willfully or by gross negligence, in disregard of humanity, exemplary damages may be given. Laws criminalizing animal abuse underscore the Legislature‘s view that animals are a distinct and specially protected form of property.”

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