Monday, January 12, 2009

Companion animals worth at least as much as your vet bills, says Illinois Appellate Court

A very good ruling from the 4th District recently... just came online today:

Leith v. Frost involved a plaintiff couple who sued their neighbor after the neighbor's Siberian Huskie got out of his yard and mauled their Dachshund. The trial court found Frost liable, but limited the Leiths' damages - which totaled more than $4,700 in vet bills - to $200. The trial court cited traditional common law limiting the cost of repairs for inanimate property to market value.

On appeal, the Fourth District reversed. It noted:

Even if it were true that anyone would pay $200 for a 7 1/2-year-old dachshund that is not a show dog, the reality is that Molly had merely nominal value at the time of the injury. A reasonable person in defendant's position should have
reasonably foreseen that if his dogs escaped from their enclosure and injured plaintiffs' family pet, plaintiffs would feel compelled to pay considerably more than a nominal amount for veterinary care. It is common knowledge that people are prepared to make great sacrifices for the well-being and continued existence of their household pets, to which they have become deeply attached. They feel a moral obligation toward these animals. Emotionally, they have no choice but to lay out great expenditures when these animals suffer a serious physical injury.

The court found that Molly must have been worth to the Leiths at least what they paid in veterinary bills, and modified the trial court's judgment to $4,784 so as to prevent the award from being nominal.

Well, yay! And it's about time.

I've gotten similar results at the trial level in the past (which the clients liked, but obviously lacked much precedential value for anyone else). This is the first such appellate pronouncement in Illinois. The Illinois court relied on the reasoning of a Kansas appellate court of Burgess v. Shampooch Pet Industries, Inc., 35 Kan. App. 2d 458, 463, 131 P.3d 1248, 1252 (2006). Hopefully, more states will follow (and expand!) upon their reasoning.

Menatime, kudos to plaintiff attorney Nick Burgrabe - way to go, Nick!

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