Can You Sue For The Wrongful Death Of A Pet?

A trip to the groomer is generally uneventful for most pets and owners. One unfortunate doggy parent, however, went to retrieve her 2-year-old golden retriever from the groomer only to be told the dog had perished as a result of being left under the dryer for too long. This incident and others have left many pet owners wondering if it is possible to file wrongful death lawsuits against the parties responsible for their pets' deaths. Regrettably, it's not and here's why.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits are Only for Humans

Although many people regard their pets as members of the family and some animals seem to have human-like intelligence, they are still considered the personal property of the people who own them. As such, the wrongful death statutes that allow people to collect compensation for a variety of damages such as loss of companionship and funeral costs do not apply.

This means when your pet companion dies as the result of someone else's negligence or actions, the damages you can collect are typically limited to veterinarian bills and the replacement or market value of the animal.

Sentimental Value

In some cases, courts will award pet owners damages based on the animals' sentimental value to them. However, this is highly dependent on the circumstances of the case and the laws in the state where the person is suing. For instance, Tennessee allows pet owners to recover up to $5,000 in non-economic damages from someone whose actions (or lack of action) caused the death of the pet. In 2004, a California court awarded a man $39,000 because the jury determined the dog had special value to the owner and the defendant in the case was aware of that fact.

Researching the laws in your state or other cases involving the loss of family pets may help you uncover ways to recover the true value of the loss of your pet friend.

Punitive Damages

If the defendant's actions were particularly egregious, the court may award the pet owner punitive damages to discourage the defendant and others from engaging in similar behavior in the future. For instance, if you left your dog with a pet sitter and the person killed the dog by abusing it, the court may award you a sum of money above and beyond what you would normally get to punish the person for engaging in the objectionable behavior.

Although you may not be able to recover damages for your pet's death based on wrongful death statutes, there are other ways you can make the responsible person pay for his or her negligence. Speak to an attorney, such as Burgess & Perigard, about the circumstances of your case, so he or she can help you develop a strategy to obtain the outcome you want.