What Damages are Recoverable in Georgia for the Death of a Pet?

photo_7501_20080925In a recent decision, Barking Hound Village, LLC v. Monyak, the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed an interesting question arising from a lawsuit brought against a kennel by the owners of a deceased daschund. On appeal, one of the questions the court needed to answer was whether the trial court erred in its ruling on the appropriate measure of damages for the loss of the dog.

The principal defendant in the case, Barking Hound Village, is a kennel located in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2012, the plaintiffs in this case boarded two of their dogs, the aforementioned daschund and a mixed-breed labrador retriever, at Barking Hound for about 10 days. The evidence showed that, while under Barking Hound’s care, the plaintiff’s daschund was administered toxic doses of a medication that had been prescribed to the labrador retriever. The medication had been left at the kennel by the plaintiffs along with instructions that it was supposed to be administered to the labrador retriever. Three days after retrieving their dogs, the labrador was diagnosed with acute renal failure that ultimately led to its death about nine months later. The plaintiff brought a negligence suit against the kennel, alleging various forms of negligence as well as fraud. Barking Hound moved for summary judgment on all the claims, but the trial court denied the motion except as to the fraud claim. Both the defendant and plaintiff appealed the various summary judgment rulings.

First, the Court of Appeals addressed the issues related to the negligence claim. Barking Hound argued that the trial court erred in not granting summary judgment on this claim because the plaintiff had failed to present evidence that the deceased dog had actual market value, which Barking Hound contends is the sole form of damages recoverable. The court disagreed, but it determined that recoverable damages were more limited than the scope outlined by the trial court. First, the court noted that for purposes of negligence liability, the dog was “property.” Accordingly, the generally applicable measure of damages is the market value of the property before and after damage to such property. When, as is the case here, the property is completely destroyed, damages are set at the fair market value of the property prior to impairment. MCI Communications Svcs. v. CMES, Inc., 291 Ga. 461, 463-464 (2012).

The trial court decision was predicated on case law related to an alternate measure of damages (i.e., the actual value to the owner) being appropriate when the lost property has little to no actual market value. The adduced evidence showed that the daschund had little to no market value at the time of its injury because it was a rescue dog that wasn’t purchased, wasn’t a pure breed, and was never a “show” dog or otherwise revenue-generating. The Court of Appeals agreed that this alternate measure of damages was appropriate under the circumstances, but the court believed valuation of the actual value was limited to reasonable veterinary costs and related expenses incurred in treating the dog. The trial court held that the plaintiffs could introduce evidence of non-economic factors indicating the dog’s intrinsic value to the owners in setting the actual value of the dog. However, the Court of Appeals found that non-economic damages are not recoverable, and thus factors included for the purpose of establishing the intrinsic or sentimental value of the dog could not be considered. Instead, the germane factors for damages were limited to those related to actual, economic costs.

Clearly, the value of a pet to its owner extends beyond the costs associated with its “market value” or “actual value.” However, the law does place limits on what one can recover after an unfortunate incident involving a pet. Although recoverable damages are limited, this case does show that certain damages are indeed recoverable for the loss of an animal. Accordingly, one who has lost a pet as a result of the possible negligence of another should consider finding counsel capable of helping him or her assess the viability of legal action. The Georgia dog attack attorneys at Christopher Simon Attorney at Law have ample experience with Georgia law and can help you assess the viability of these and other types of negligence claims. Feel free to contact us if you are interested in a complimentary case consultation.

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