Tort damages concerning domestic pets are not limited by market value.

November 19, 2012
By Justice Steven Vartabedian (Ret.) on November 19, 2012 6:00 AM |

domestic pets.jpg"[A]nimals are special, sentient beings, because unlike other forms of property, animals feel pain, suffer and die." With words like these, the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division One, rejected defendants argument, an argument accepted by the trial courts, that the measure of damages are limited to the market value of the injured dogs in Martinez v. Robledo (filed October 23, 2012) 2012 DJDAR 14708.

This opinion involved consolidated matters: (1) In Martinez v. Robledo, defendant shot his next door neighbor's (Plaintiff's) dog (Gunner, a two-year-old German Shepherd), causing the amputation of Gunner's right leg; plaintiff seeks recovery of the vertinary bills of $20,789.81 plus punitive damages. (2) In Workman v. Klause, plaintiff's 9-year-old Golden Retriever, Katie, received surgery from defendant veterinarian at a cost of $4,836.16; Katie's intestine was nicked during the surgery and a piece of surgical gauze was left in her body causing an infection; plaintiff's incurred emergency bills elsewhere in the sum of $37,766.06 in order to save Katie's life; plaintiff sued for this later sum, defendant having already refunded to plaintiff monies for his professional charges.

In both cases, defendants were granted motions in limine, limiting the matters that would be admissible to prove damages, and the trial courts ruled that the measure of damages would be limited to the fair market value of the dogs. Plaintiffs appealed each of their cases (in which their damage recovery was $1,000 fair market value) claiming pets are and should be treated fundamentally more significant than mere personal property, relying upon the First Appellate District case of Kimes v. Grosser (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 1556. (A discussion of that appellate ruling concerning injuries to pet cat "Pumpkin," including potential punitive damages, appears in the June 16, 2011 blog.) As alluded to above, the Second Appellate District panel here agreed with both plaintiffs and the Kimes opinion.

Two things seem apparent from these opinions. First, veterinarians may find their malpractice premiums rising significantly. Second, appellate justices appear to be more attached to their household critters than the trial judges who rendered the trial court rulings.