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Animal Law

Calif. Appeals Court Allows Emotional Distress Damages for Pet Owners in Intentional Injury Case

Posted Sep 5, 2012 11:45 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A California appeals court has upheld $50,000 in emotional distress damages for pet owners who claim their neighbor intentionally injured their dog.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal said such damages may be allowed for intentional injury, but not for negligence, the Recorder reports. The plaintiffs, David and Joyce Plotnik, had claimed they had to pay $2,600 in veterinary bills for surgery to repair their dog Romeo’s leg after the April 2009 incident.

The opinion noted that courts in Washington, Florida and Louisiana have also allowed damages for mental suffering caused by a defendant’s wrongful acts resulting in a pet’s injury or death.

David Plotnik testified about the day Romeo was injured, according to the opinion issued last week. Plotnik said he opened his gate because he heard banging on the fence, and Romeo ran into his neighbor’s yard. Plotnik then lost sight of Romeo and assumed the dog had run to the front of his house. When Plotnik returned to his lot, he said, he heard a bark and a squeal and then saw Romeo roll through the gate and hit a tree.

The neighbor, Plotnik said, was holding a baseball bat and told Plotnik to stop his dog from barking. The neighbor, however, contended he felt threatened by Romeo and used the bat merely to guide the dog back home.

"We believe good cause exists to allow the recovery of damages for emotional distress under the circumstances of this case," the court said.

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