Personal Injury, Probate, Employment, & Complex Litigation


Someone Hurt/Killed My Pet, Can I Sue?

California is a very pro-pet state. We allow owners of pets to create trusts for the specific and only purpose of caring for their pets, we have held that pet companionship is a very important right, and we as a society adopt a lot of pet friendly informal rules.

However, there is one area that California is not as forward thinking on as it could be when it comes to pets.

The general rule in most states throughout the United States is that if your animal is killed, you can recover on a basis of trespass to chattels. Trespass to chattels is a fancy way of saying someone violated your exclusive right of possession and use of personal property.

However, any recovery for a trespass to chattels claim (or conversion if the value of the personal property item is completely destroyed or rendered useless) is the diminution of value. This includes pets. So the general rule is that if someone kills your cat or dog, you are only able to recover the market value of that pet. The problem is, a cat or dog is almost completely valueless to anyone that is not an owner (unless of course it is a rare purebred animal).

This of course ignores the emotional connection a human has with their pet, and that is because the law held long ago that the sentimental attachment does not come into consideration when determining how much an individual can recover for the loss of a personal property object.

Thankfully, California is further ahead than most of the country on this issue, but not by much. In California, you can recover the medical bills accrued to treat the animal for the injuries wrongfully inflicted. (Martinez v. Robledo (2012) 210 Cal.App.4th 384). Additionally, if the injury or death of the animal was done intentionally, you can recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress (Plotnik v. Meihaus (2012 208 Cal.App.4th 1590). However, that is still a long way from being able to recover for non-IIED emotional distress.

In California, you can recover for loss of consortium for a lost human family member. This is to compensate you for the loss of care, guidance, and love (among other things) that you will no longer receive from that person because of the wrongful injury to that person. This is available for only a small set of human relationships that have been deemed intimate enough to allow this type of recovery.

It is possible this type of recovery can be theoretically possible for the loss of an animal, but it would likely take an action by the legislature, not the court, to make it possible.