Your Dog Is Worth The Same As Your Toaster? Really?

By Diane M. Sullivan, Assistant Dean and Holly Vietzke, Prof.

So, here we go again.  Georgia’s Supreme Court will decide whether a family dog, Lola, is a worthless piece of property despite the fact that the family paid $70,000 to save her life.

A kennel is accused of killing the plaintiff’s family dog by administering the wrong medicine.  The kennel denies this allegation and furthermore suggests that even if it did in fact cause Lola’s death, she has no monetary value because she was rescued from a shelter.  In other words, the dog is worthless.

The kennel makes an all too familiar argument – animals are only property and therefore the family is limited to the dog’s market value:  zero.

Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows this is nonsense.  A dog is not the same as your iPhone or toaster.  Here in Massachusetts, in a case heard by the Massachusetts Appeals Court in the Massachusetts School of Law courtroom, the Court upheld a judgment awarding more than $8,000 for injuries sustained when the defendant’s unleashed German Shephard violently attacked the plaintiff’s Bichon Frise – in its own yard.

The defendant’s argument boiled down to this: it is only an animal, and the damages should be capped at the dog’s replacement value, which is far less than the amount the plaintiff paid to restore the dog’s health. But replacement value isn’t the correct measure of damages. Most pet owners would spend any amount of money to save a pet’s life.  There is not ascertainable value to the beloved family pet, whose intrinsic worth increases daily to the pet’s family.

Massachusetts was at the forefront ruling in favor of the plaintiffs by upholding reimbursement of the amount the family spent (out-of-pocket expense) as the appropriate measure of damages. Other states, starting with Georgia, need to follow.

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