On October 14, 2016, Ohio's 6th Appellate District remanded a Lucas County Municipal Court decision granting plaintiff a mere $400.00 after his dog was viciously attacked by the defendant's dog resulting in $10,000 in veterinary bills. The trial court issued its opinion that damages for pets are capped at the market value because Ohio treats pets as property pursuant to O.R.C. 955.03. The Court of Appeals disagreed and sent the case back to the trial court for a better calculation of damages stating:
"We agree with and acknowledge that pets do not have the same characteristics as other forms of personal property, such as a table or sofa which is disposable and replaceable at our convenience. Accordingly, additional factors should be considered in fashioning an appropriate economic damages award due to loss or injury. Such factors include fair market value, age of the pet, pedigree, training, breeding income, recommendation of the treating veterinarian, circumstances of the injury, and anticipated recovery. The overriding consideration is the reasonableness of the expenses and is fact specific. Importantly we note that
'[a]lthough the owner's affection for the animal may be considered in assessing the reasonableness of the decision to treat the animal, the owner cannot recover for his or her own hurt feelings, emotions, or pain. Nor is the owner entitled to recover for the loss of the animal's companionship or society.'"
The is yet another step in the right direction to correctly calculate damages for a beloved pet in a legal proceeding. While the law is slow to catch up to the importance of pets in our lives, courts are progressing towards awarding damages more appropriately than the "replacement market value.” However, the opinion also shows the court's hesitancy to permit any type of emotional damages of the owner based solely upon injuries to a pet.
While courts are progressing in the right direction—in a way that would negatively affect veterinarians fending off veterinary malpractice actions—I often present a conundrum in my veterinary continuing education seminars: Veterinarians overwhelmingly agree a pet is worth more than its market value, yet under existing law a veterinarian concerned that he or she may be subject to malpractice would be legally better served for an animal to die than receive further veterinary care. This is because the loss of a pet’s life diminishes damages because an owner cannot recover for emotional loss whereas if the pet is transferred to a specialty/emergency hospital for further care the veterinarians facing malpractice could be on the hook for thousands in medical bills to try and save the pet’s life. Conversely we would not weigh damages of a [human] person in such an asinine manner. It is only a matter of time before the law catches up with our conscience and permits accurate damages for those that lose a family member which values life over property.
Rego v. Madalinski, 6th Dist. Lucas No. L-16-1030, 2016 Ohio App. LEXIS 4198 (Oct. 14, 2016)