Animal Law

New Jersey Supremes Bar Emotional Distress Claim for Seeing Pet Mauled to Death

Pet owners in New Jersey can’t sue for emotional distress caused by seeing their animals killed, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled.

The court ruled in a suit by Joyce McDougall, whose was walking her maltipoo in June 2007 when a larger dog attacked and shook her pet to death. The trial judge awarded $5,000 to replace her dog but denied emotional distress damages. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed in a 5-0 opinion (PDF), report the New Jersey Law Journal, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog and the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

The court said that New Jersey allows emotional distress damages for witnessing a traumatic death only in narrow circumstances. “Although we recognize that many people form close bonds with their pets, we conclude that those bonds do not rise to the level of close familial relationship or intimate, marital-type bond,” the court said.

Allowing a cause of action would require the court to “vastly expand the class of human relationships” qualifying for damages, or would “elevate relationships with animals above those we share with other human beings,” the court said. ”We conclude that neither response to the question presented would be sound.”

Courts in Florida, Hawaii and Louisiana allow emotional distress claims stemming from the death of a pet.

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