Emotional Distress from Willful Killing or Injuring a Dog Is Now Recognized in California

Last week California law shifted significantly in favor of people who love their dogs, and in favor of the dogs themselves. In an important and long awaited decision, a Court of Appeal (the second highest court in California) ruled that a defendant must compensate for the emotional distress sustained by reason of his willfully killing or injuring another person’s pet dog. The case is Plotnik v. Miehaus

Previously, this state (like most others) largely stood in the way of pet owners who asked for justice when their companion animals were hurt by the fault of another person. Dogs were regarded as mere property, like ashtrays or car tires, so if one was injured or destroyed by a wrongdoer, he had to pay only the cost of a replacement or the market value. (How much do you want for one used dog?)

Some states have been making changes in this insensitive line of decisions. Here in California, the law had been widened last year when a court ruled that the defendant who negligently injured a dog had to pay the medical bills. In Kimes v. Grosser (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 1556, it was held that a pet owner could recover “the [reasonable and necessary] costs of care of the pet attributable to the injury” caused by another. (Id. at p. 1558.) The Kimes case was also ground-breaking.

Courts have been balking, however, at giving full compensation to dog owners under all situations where their dogs are wrongfully injured or killed. The appellate court in Plotnik agreed with the decision in McMahon v. Craig (2009) 176 Cal.App.4th 1502, which held that a pet owner could not recover damages for emotional distress or loss of companionship based on a veterinarian’s negligent treatment that resulted in a dog’s death. (Id. at pp. 1506, 1509-1515.) 

This case is important on an additional level. When dog owners can recover monetary damages for emotional distress, it is not they who are the only beneficiaries, but also dogs in general. The reason is that people now know that they cannot intentionally mistreat another’s dog and count on the overworked criminal justice system to give them a free pass. Yes, they might not go to jail, but they will have to pay compensation for their misdeeds. 

If your dog is injured or killed, you can get justice with the assistance of my self-help book, When A Dog Is Injured Or Killed. It is available at the Dog Bite Law Bookstore where it can be downloaded instantly.