In the event that your pet is injured or killed due to the negligent acts of another, then you may be able to bring a legal action on their behalf to recover certain costs, such as veterinary bills and/or other damages.
If you do intend to sue, make sure that you remember to ask the veterinarian to document all their findings from your pet’s exam and also to request copies of your pet’s treatment records. Both your pet’s vet records and the related costs can serve as valuable evidence when attempting to recover expenses.
Additionally, the laws for this type of action can vary by state and sometimes even by county. In fact, most state laws do not specifically provide how much a person can recover if their pet has been injured or killed as a result of a wrongful act or negligent conduct. Thus, the amount a person can receive for a successful claim will depend on both state laws and the facts of each case.
How Much Can I Recover?
It would seem like an impossible feat for a pet owner to put a price on their beloved animals. Yet, the law does so regardless. Generally speaking, the average damages for a loss of a pet typically involve calculating some the following amounts:
- The “market value” or how much it costs to replace an animal. This is the most common type of compensation that a pet owner will receive for their deceased animal.
- The amount required to be reimbursed for the veterinary care associated with the incident, so long as the vet used reasonable treatments. In order to determine whether a treatment should be deemed reasonable, the court will consider the animal’s health prior to the injury in question and the type of injury that was inflicted.
- The value of the animal to its owner, which can be deduced by using a number of factors, including the kind of animal, the quality and length of the pet and owner’s relationship, and various other indicators. However, this type of remedy is not commonly used in these cases and thus may depend on the judge hearing the case or the laws enacted in a particular county.
- Damages for emotional distress based on the owner’s experience and the emotional grief they suffered watching their pet get injured or killed. As with most claims that involve a request for damages for emotional distress, this will be very difficult to prove and will largely depend on the state in which a pet owner resides.
In extreme and rare cases, punitive damages may also be awarded if a defendant acted maliciously in maiming or killing an animal.
Who is Liable for My Injured or Killed Pet?
Any person who commits an intentional or negligent act that results in the death or injury of another’s pet, will likely be held liable for damages. For example, a driver who runs a red light and ends up hitting a dog due to their negligent actions, can be held responsible.
The one exception to this rule is if the person was acting in self-defense, such as protecting themselves from being attacked by the animal or pet.
In most jurisdictions, pets are considered to be personal property and thus a person will not be allowed to bring a wrongful pet death lawsuit. Instead, an owner will most likely have to sue using some sort of claim involving personal property, along with a request for damages based on the fair market value of the animal.
What If You are Partially Liable?
As previously discussed, the amount of damages for the death or injury of an animal will vary according to both state and local laws. Specifically, in a case where a pet owner is partially liable for their pet’s injury or death, the amount of damages can potentially be reduced or barred depending on what type of negligence theory is followed within the state.
For example, the majority of states use some form of a comparative negligence standard in order to determine recovery. Comparative negligence jurisdictions can either be pure or modified. In a state that follows the rules for pure comparative negligence, the owner will be able to recover damages regardless of what percentage of fault can be attributed to them.
On the other hand, if the pet owner resides in a jurisdiction that follows the modified version of comparative negligence, then they will be barred from recovering any damages if they are found to be more than 50% at fault for their pet’s injuries or death.
The final type of negligence theory, which is only available in a handful of states, is called “contributory negligence.” If a pet owner is found partially liable for their pet’s death or injuries and lives in a state that follows a contributory negligence standard, then they will not be allowed to recover any damages. This is true even if they are only 1% at fault.
Can I Sue My Vet for Misdiagnosis or Malpractice?
There are two primary legal theories that an owner may use to sue a vet: malpractice and simple negligence.
Malpractice can occur when a vet does not meet the standard of care required of all veterinary professionals, which then causes them to injure or kill an animal. A vet may fall below this standard of care for a variety of reasons, such as incompetence, misdiagnosis, and treating animals with careless indifference.
For an owner to prevail on a malpractice lawsuit, they will have to prove at least four different elements before they can win. Although these claims are usually brought because the vet made a mistake, not all mistakes will qualify. The error has to be related to the vet’s professional competence and ability to make judgment calls.
Pet-related claims that do not meet the criteria for a malpractice lawsuit, but still cause injury or death to an animal due to a vet’s mistake, can be filed as a simple negligence suit. The standard for simple negligence will not be based on the vet’s professional experience, but rather on what someone else in the vet’s place would have done within reason.
A simple negligence case may arise if the vet loses the pet owner’s animal or forgets to feed and provide water for the animal if they are at the vet’s for a long appointment.
Sometimes these cases can become quite complicated without legal assistance. This is because many cases are heavily based on specific state law and there are many elements that must be met to reach a successful outcome. Thus, it may be an owner’s best interest to hire an animal injury lawyer to help with a malpractice or simple negligence lawsuit.
Should I Contact an Attorney?
If your pet has been injured or killed, you should consider contacting a local personal injury lawyer for further assistance. Your lawyer will be able to determine whether you can collect any damages on behalf of your pet and can discuss what your potential legal options are for recovery.
Your lawyer can also explain how the laws in your area may affect the outcome of your case, and can represent you in court if necessary.