Friday, March 25, 2005

Pet Owner Can Sue for Sentimental Value

An appellate court in Illinois has held that the owner of a pet cat that was killed may sue for what the cat was worth to her, including damages such as sentimental value. Below is the cover story regarding the case that appeared in the ABA Journal Ereport on March 25, 2005.

Animals Are Being Seen as More Than Property, Ruling Says

Mary Ann Anzalone testified that since her cat Blackie was mauled to death, she has cried constantly, lost sleep, suffered headaches, gained weight and endured recurring nightmares. But no matter how deep a person’s suffering over the loss of a pet, most courts allow the aggrieved owner to recover monetary damages only for an animal’s property value.

However, in an unusual ruling, the Illinois Appellate Court this month said Anzalone may be able to claim compensation for the sentimental value of her cat.

A rottweiler killed Blackie in June 2002 at the Kragness Animal Hospital in Chicago after the dog pushed through a door left ajar and into the exercise room occupied by the cat.

A Cook County Circuit Court dismissed Anzalone’s suit for $100,000 on the ground that she failed to specify her damages. A three-judge appellate panel reversed, saying Anzalone should be able to argue for damages based on Blackie’s value to her rather than the pet’s fair market value. Anzalone v. Kragness, No. 1-04-1647 (March 7).

"I think it’s a very good decision, which basically says that animals are not property," says Ledy VanKavage, senior director of legislative services with the ASPCA in Illinois. "The animal-human bond is evolving, and this decision is a reflection of society’s changing attitudes."

Under common law, animals are considered an item of personal property, and pet owners may recover damages only for an animal’s fair market value. This view of pets as property prevails in most jurisdictions, the court said, although legal scholars specializing in animal issues consider it outdated.

But computing damages this way does not account for instances when a pet has no fair market value. The court cited a 1987 Illinois ruling, Jankoski v. Preiser Animal Hospital, 510 N.E.2d 1084, that allows damages to be based on the value of the pet to the owner, including an element of sentimental value. Jankoski did not allow an independent cause of action for loss of companionship, however.

The ASPCA says allowing sentimental value damages in a negligence suit by a pet owner is an important step in defining animals as more than property. Illinois enacted a statute, the Humane Care for Animals Act, which provides, at least in theory, for civil damages for emotional distress. But VanKavage notes the law was written only to account for "damages for injury or death of pets subjected to intentional acts of aggravated cruelty or torture."

The law did not address negligent injury. "In fact, the ruling here was broader than the legislation," VanKavage says.

It’s not clear how much money Anzalone may be awarded. The appeals court said her claim for $100,000 is excessive, but said the lower court should not have dismissed her claim because of that.

Veterinarian Craig Kragness declined to comment, and his lawyer, Edward Rampson, did not return calls requesting comment. Anzalone’s attorney, Amy Breyer, is out of the country and could not be reached.

©2005 ABA Journal

Monday, March 07, 2005

Welcome to the Animal Law Blog!

This is, as far as I can tell, the first blog dedicated to the discussion of the evolving area of animal law. It is my hope that this will become a forum for practitioners and scholars to exchange legal updates, theories and thoughtful commentary on statutory and common law relating to all manner of non-human animals. If you would like to participate, or have a suggestion for improving this site, please let me know!