Any pet owner will tell you their dog is priceless. So how is a dog’s actual worth determined? Military dogs have saved the lives of an estimated 150-200 soldiers. Dogs work in Animal Assisted Therapy programs to help occupational and physical therapists meet important patient goals. They help keep patients safe in nursing homes, especially those with Alzheimer’s disease or with mental illness. Service dogs help people with specific conditions like epilepsy, blindness, and PTSD. Some dogs can smell cancer. Dogs serve us and love us in endless ways.
What a shock to discover the law views our beloved canine companions as personal property! So calculating an animal’s value in a wrongful death proceeding would be the same as estimating other property such as cars, clothes, or furniture. They do not take into account the cost of medical care or specialized training for a family pet. And, most states do not allow an owner to recover damages for the emotional distress an owner experiences when an animal is hurt or killed through negligence, whether intentional or unintentional. The owner is usually granted “replacement value,” which is around $200, and the market value proves less for a rescue animal.
If you sue for damages, you may find an attorney who specializes in cases involving animals. As the law considers this as injury to property, an attorney who handles injury to property (tort cases) should be able to handle the case. Most likely, the attorney’s fees will be more than any punitive or emotional distress damages.
North Carolina adheres to the national viewpoint of animals as property. In a well-known case settled in 2012, Shera v. N.C. State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that the owners are not entitled to recover damages for the negligent death of their pet beyond the cost to replace the pet. During a procedure, the hospital had inserted a feeding tube into the trachea instead of the esophagus which resulted in Laci’s death. The hospital admitted their error and offered to pay for the cost of interring the dog. Because the case was under the jurisdiction of the Industrial Commission due to the involvement of NCSU, the owners were eventually granted an award of $3,105.72. It covered reimbursement for the cost of the treatment that led to Laci’s death plus $350 for the replacement cost of a new Jack Russell Terrier puppy. The judge in the Court of Appeals said “we sincerely empathize with the Plaintiff’s loss of their beloved pet Laci.” He added that “the Court of Appeals was not a law-making court and that the expansion of the law to allow pet owners to recover sentimental damages for the loss of a pet was within the province of the NC Supreme Court, or preferably the Legislature.”
As the caretaker of two wonderful dogs, I can attest to my savings in psychology altering drugs due to their constant affection and companionship. Isn’t it time our society acknowledged the extended value of our furry companions?
Lin Sharp is co-author of Hey! Can You Hear Us? Messages from Animals” and “Fly Bird Fly” – available from Amazon or from Crystal Spectrum Publications. She blogs about pets at www.Pawz-itivelySharp.com.