RECOVERING DAMAGES FOR THE LOSS OF A PET

The death of a dog, cat or other pet can be heartbreaking, especially if the loss was caused by another’s carelessness or negligence.  Taking the wrongdoer to court can produce disappointing results because of the legal tradition which only permits a judge or jury to award money damages for the “fair market value” of the pet.  Unless the pet was from a champion breed line, the damages for the loss of a dog or cat would may not even be enough to pay for the costs of litigation.

Unlike many states, however, Idaho law does provide a mechanism by which pet owners can obtain additional damages in a civil lawsuit.  In 1985, the Idaho Court of Appeals issued a decision in this case of Gill v. Brown (107 Idaho 1137).  This case involved a lawsuit by persons whose pet donkey was shot and killed by the defendant.  In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged not only the financial loss of the pet, but also requested damages for mental anguish due to the loss of the animal.  The court permitted the plaintiffs to proceed to trial for the additional money damages, and held as follows:

“One who by extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another is subject to liability for such emotional distress, and if bodily harm to the other results from it, for such bodily harm.

Under this view, a plaintiff may recover for mental anguish if the defendant’s conduct was “outrageous” and if the mental anguish suffered was “severe”. Hatfield v. Max Rouse & Sons, supra; Rasmuson v. Walker Bank & Trust Company, 102 Idaho 95, 625 P.2d 1098 (1981). In their complaint, the Gills allege that Brown “negligently and recklessly” shot and killed the donkey, that the donkey was both a pet and a pack animal, and that the loss of the donkey has caused the Gills to suffer “extreme mental anguish and trauma.” By alleging that Brown’s conduct was reckless and that they thereby suffered extreme mental anguish and trauma, the Gills have alleged facts that, if proven, could permit recovery under an intentional infliction of emotional distress cause of action. Accordingly, we hold the district court erred by striking the Gills’ claim for damages caused by mental anguish.”

This case demonstrates that an experienced injury attorney should carefully draft the language of the lawsuit complaint in order to obtain the maximum amount of damages for the client.

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