Industry groups are taking up opposite sites of the fight in the appeal of a case that resulted in an award of $620,000 to a family whose dog was shot by a sheriff’s deputy.
In 2010, two deputies arrived at the home of Roger and Sandi Jenkins in search of the couple’s son. According to the Washington Post, Roger said, “Let me put the dogs away and you can come in,” which made the officers suspicious that the son was sneaking out the back, so one went around the side of the house. There, he met up with the family’s chocolate lab, Brandi.
The deputy went for his gun and shot Brandi, even though she stopped barking and never got within three feet of him. The whole thing was caught on a dashboard camera:
Brandi, survived the incident, but will require lifelong medical care. To make matters worse here, when the Jenkins took her to the vet, the deputies went into their home without a warrant or their consent.
The family sued, and the jury found that their constitutional rights had been violated and returned a $620,000 verdict in their favor, including $200,000 for emotional distress.
The sheriff’s office appealed the case this summer in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, at which time they found themselves with some unlikely allies. Nine national and local groups, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Kennel Club, Cat Fanciers’ Association and the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association, among others, had recently filed their own brief in support of tossing the award for emotional distress.
Their argument is that awards for emotional distress will result in higher costs when it comes to pet-related services, such as veterinary care. In this particular case they argued that “there is no basis for creating emotion-based liability in pet litigation, regardless of the nature of the claim.” This also isn’t the first time some of these groups have come out against awards for “non-ecomonic” damages in wrongful death cases.
While the law only recognizes companion animals as “property,” there have been a number of cases that reflect our changing attitudes towards them. For those of us who view our pets as furry members of the family, losing one in a wrongful death case is much more complicated than recovering their “economic” or “market” value. Whether it’s a case of veterinary malpractice, a lost pet who gets picked up and accidentally euthanized or a pet who is intentionally injured or killed, money can never make it right. The courts need to acknowledge their sentimental value and the fact that most people don’t view them like an inanimate object that can simply be replaced.
Now industry groups are fighting over whether the settlement should be upheld. The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a brief supporting the family and the award. The organization doesn’t believe the outcome will affect costs in the future and argues that these organizations, who all profit off of our bonds with animals, are hypocritically trying to limit damages to their value as property.
“When those who harm animals are held accountable for the full extent of the injuries they cause, it sends a clear message that our society and our legal system is starting to take the lives of animals seriously. When pet industry groups like AKC and AVMA oppose non-economic damages, they are standing in the way of progress for animals,” stated the organization.
In the case of police officers shooting dogs, which is happening far too frequently, awards like this might help them think twice before unnecessarily using lethal force.
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