Brandy Austin Law Firm PLLC
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Family Lawyer

Most people consider their pet a member of the family, enjoying many of the things their human owners enjoy. Pets provide unconditional love and companionship. So if something happens and your pet dies because of someone else’s negligence, you are understandably angry and feel devastated. Can you file a wrongful death suit if your pet dies at the hands of someone else? If so, how does the court figure out a fair award if you had to watch your pet suffer?

Even though most people in this country treat their animals like family, the courts generally terms them personal property.

Can I file a Wrongful Death Claim for My Pet if the Court Sees them as Personal Property?

The laws vary from state to state, but generally you can sue for the wrongful death of your pet. Some states limit the damages to the actually monetary loss incurred because of the loss. However, if the death was deliberate, many states will permit the courts to award damages for the emotional pain and suffering or additional money to send a message to the wrongdoer.

How Do I Figure Out the Total Cost of Veterinary Treatment?

The individual responsible for the injury should be the one to pay the initial vet bills. Only ‘reasonable’ treatment is allowed by the courts. Several factors are considered when determining reasonable treatment They include:

  • The extent of the animal’s injuries
  • The age of the animal
  • The general condition or health of the animal

The court may look at an unusually high vet bill and determine that because of the pet’s age, the owner is not entitled to anything more than the ‘market value’ of the pet.

Fortunately, many judges have rejected that approach and have ruled in favor of reimbursing vet expenses necessary to restore the pet to its former condition if the accident was not fatal. For that reason, it is important to keep detailed records of all expenses incurred (vet bills, time off work to take pet to vet), etc.

How Does the Court Determine a Monetary Value for My Pet?

There are several different ways a court will use in determining the economic value of your pet:

  • Fair market value – the amount of money the pet would get if sold. Factors include age of the animal, original purchase price, pedigree and breed
  • Replacement value – also includes training and any awards (this amount is generally higher than the fair market value)
  • Value Special of the owner – if the the dog was an award-winning pedigree and the owner had spent thousands of dollars in specialized training, it is felt that the owner could not replace the dog

Typically, it is difficult to receive compensation for pain and suffering because someone was responsible for killing your pet. There are a few states that have awarded up to $5000 in damages for pain and suffering, but consult with your wrongful death lawyer to check with any recent court decisions that may be similar to your case.  In addition, you may want to think about filing a claim in small claims court to resolve smaller disputes.