In Barking Hound Village, LLC v. Monyak, Case No. S15G1184 (decided June 6, 2016), the Georgia Supreme Court addressed how to properly measure the damages available to the owners of an animal killed through the negligence of others.
The plaintiffs owned an 8½-year-old mixed-breed dog. While being boarded at a kennel owned by defendant, the dog allegedly received improper amounts of medication which caused the dog to experience renal failure. After receiving extensive veterinary care, the dog died. The veterinary bills and related expenses totaled over $67,000.
The owners of the deceased dog sued the kennel for negligence. The central focus of the case was how to measure the plaintiffs’ damages. The kennel argued that the damages were capped at the dog’s fair market value. The pet owners claimed that the measure of damages was the intrinsic value of the dog to them in addition to their veterinary bills.
In deciding the case, the Georgia Supreme Court took an intermediate position. The Court held that the pet owners were entitled to recover the reasonable cost of the care and treatment of the animal resulting from injuries negligently inflicted on the animal. The Court held that it was up to the jury to decide whether the post-injury care given to the animal was reasonable. Opinion, p. 18.
The Court held that the pet owners were not entitled to damages based on the sentimental value of the animal to its owners. Opinion, pp. 16-17. In addition to the veterinary expenses, the animal owners were allowed to recover the fair market value of the animal. In determining market value, the jury could consider the animal’s “attributes” such as its breed, age, training, temperament, and use. Opinion, p. 17. However, the jury could consider such evidence only in the context of determining the fair market value of the pet, and not its subjective value to its owners.
Without opening the door to the potentially large, speculative damage awards based on the sentimental value of a beloved pet, the Georgia Supreme Court has struck a balance that gives the pet owner the potential for a meaningful recovery for a lost animal.
The Opinion is available at https://www.gasupreme.us/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/s15g1184.pdf
For more information on this case, contact your Appellate counsel at Smith, Gambrell and Russell, LLP.