Barking Up the Wrong Tree: Companion Animals, Emotional Damages and the Judiciary’s Failure to Keep Pace
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What is the value of afternoon walks in the park? Evenings spent relaxing on a living room sofa? A wet face licking and waging tail every day when you come home? If posed to a pet owner, the answer to these three questions will likely be one word: priceless. Recovery at law for the death or injury to a pet, however, not only has a price, but that price is measured solely by the pet's market value. The role companion animals serve in the American household has evolved: Once property used to derive an economic benefit; pets are now family members sharing a unique emotional bond with their human companions. Yet, the judiciary has failed to keep pace with society’s changing attitudes. As a result, there is inconsistent precedent on the ability of the pet owner to recover for emotional damages following the injury or death of a companion animal. The courts are looking to the legislature to recognize this right of recovery. It is time for the legislatures to act by following and improving existing legislation and statutorily permit recovery of non-economic damages for the wrongful injury to or death of companion animals.