What is the Value of an Injured Pet?
by Jean-Simon Serrano
In what seems to be a trend of new cases expanding the rights of pet owners, the Court of Appeal for the Second District recently ruled that the usual standard of recovery for a dead or injured pet (market value) is inadequate when applied to injured pets.
The recent case, Martinez v. Robledo, (2012) 2012 Cal. App. LEXIS 1098, which was actually the consolidation of two similar cases, presented the legal issue: What is the measure of damages for the wrongful injury of a pet?
In both of the consolidated cases, the trial court ruled that the measure of damages would be limited to the market value of the injured dogs.
On Appeal, the Court held that a pet owner is not limited to the market value of the pet and may recover the reasonable and necessary costs incurred for the treatment and care of the pet attributable to the injury.
The Court reasoned:
“There can be little doubt that most pets have minimal to no market value, particularly elderly pets. As amicus notes, while people typically place substantial value on their own animal companions, as evidenced by the large sums of money spent on food, medical care, toys, boarding and grooming, etc., there is generally no market for other people’s pets. We agree that the determination of a pet’s value cannot be made solely by looking to the marketplace. If the rule were otherwise, an injured animal’s owner would bear most or all of the costs for the medical care required to treat the injury caused by a tortfeasor, while the tortfeasor’s liability for such costs would in most cases be minimal, no matter how horrific the wrongdoer’s conduct or how gross the negligence of a veterinarian or other animal professional.”
Using the notion that tort law was designed such that injured parties are to be “made whole,” the Court held, “that allowing an injured pet’s owner to recover the reasonable and necessary costs incurred in the treatment and care for the animal attributable to the injury is a rational and appropriate measure of damages. Such evidence is admissible under Civil Code section 3333 as proof of a plaintiff’s compensable damages. And a defendant may present evidence showing the costs were unreasonable under the circumstances.”
Thus, with this ruling, those who have the misfortune of having their pets injured by another are no longer constrained to the mere market value of their fuzzy friends. Instead, owners may now recover reasonable costs incurred for the treatment and care of the pet which arose as a result of the injury.
As an animal lover, I believe this ruling is long since overdue and I am pleased to see the Court recognizing that pets have some intrinsic value beyond their mere market or replacement price.