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It’s A Dog’s Life

Lola is back but this time in a court case. This Lola was a four legged creature, beloved by her owners, but shabbily cared for by their kennel according to the owners. Lola was a mixed breed dachshund, 8 ½ years old, owned by the Monyaks. The Monyaks’ left Lola and their labradodog lifer, Callie, with Barking Hound Village for care while the Monyaks were absent. Callie had a special medication for arthritic pain and the Monyaks left careful instructions about Callie’s care. Alas, when the Monyaks returned, they found Lola in medical distress with acute renal failure, purportedly as a result of the kennel giving Lola the medicine provided for Callie. There is also an allegation that the kennel covered up their mistake instead of getting Lola immediate care. Despite the best care available, Lola succumbed nine months later to the kidney failure, but not for the lack of expense on the part of the Monyaks, who spent $67,000 on Lola’s care. It’s your basic wrongful death case, but with a dog.

So the issue is, what is a dog worth? Not just any dog, but a mixed bred, elderly dog that for all intents and purposes could be replaced (in the physical sense) by a free pound puppy. Barking Hound was put in the dishonorable position of arguing that it’s just a dog. No big deal. Get another one. Life goes on. Who spends $67,000 on a dog, for goodness sakes? Essentially, Lola was like a car, her death value being capped at fair market value. These less than honorable positions were taken by Barking Hound out of legal necessity.

The Monyaks’ argued that Lola wasn’t like a car, she/he was so much more. She was their pet. They loved her/him. They had a relationship with him/her. So the Monyaks’ sought compensatory damages, as well as damages for fraud, deceit, negligence, litigation expenses and punitive damages. I can’t help but think of the car commercial where the girl talks about her car that she named Brad, how her car had been through four boyfriends, multiple jobs, etc. and then she wrecked it. She personified her car, but even she didn’t seek more than the car was worth on a fair market value. It’s a car! But Lola? She/he was so much more.

The trial court, faced with a dearth of cases on pet values, sided with the Monyaks’ and allowed the case to go to a jury on those issues. The Barking Hound didn’t bite at that point, but they did appeal. On appeal, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that Lola had little or no market value, but did rule that the expenses of treatment were recoverable. Neither side was happy with that ruling, so the case went to the Georgia Supreme Court.

The Supremes went way back to find that the value of a critter: “[When an animal is] negligently injured and subsequently dies as a result of those injuries, the proper measure of damages recoverable by the animal’s owner includes not only the full market value of the animal at the time of the loss plus interest, but also expenses incurred by the owner in an effort to cure the animal.” (Telfair County v. Webb, 1991 Ga. 916 (1904) where an owner sued for damages suffered when his horse stepped through a rotted board on a county bridge) and (Atlanta Cotton Seed v. Coffey, 80 Ga. 150 (1887) where the court ruled that an owner is entitled to recover for any expenses incurred in treating an animal’s injuries).

The Supremes did rule that the “intrinsic value of the dog is not recoverable” while agreeing that “unique human-animal bond, while cherished, is beyond legal measure.” The Supremes held that the issue is the value of the dog in a fair market, not the value solely to its owners, but that value, qualitative and quantitative, is one that the owners get to argue to a jury.

The case is now headed back to trial, and Lola will get her day in court. I’ll let you know what the jury decides. I note that there is no value with a cat. A cat is just a cat.

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