The sentimental value of a pet to its owner is literally and legally priceless, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday, June 6.
In a unanimous decision, the court said if someone causes a pet’s injury or death through negligence, the owner may not seek damages for the animal’s sentimental value. But the owner may recover the fair market value of the pet plus interest and any reasonable expenses incurred to treat the injuries.
The precedent-setting ruling came in the case of Barking Hound Village vs. Monyak.
Robert and Elizabeth Monyak boarded their 8½-year-old dachshund mix, Lola, and 13-year-old Labrador mix, Callie, with William Furman’s Barking Hound Village in Atlanta for 10 days in 2012. The Monyaks left kennel personnel an arthritis anti-inflammatory drug for Callie.
Lola, a rescue dog, was diagnosed with acute renal failure three days after the Monyaks picked up the dogs, and she died in March 2013 after nine months of veterinary care, including kidney dialysis, totaling more than $67,000.
The Monyaks contend that the kennel gave Callie’s medicine to Lola and that the doses were toxic because Lola was so much smaller than Callie. The kennel denies the accusation.
But the Supreme Court grappled not with the question of whether the kennel caused Lola’s death, but with the issue of how to determine damages when “the subject matter of this case is near and dear to the heart of many a Georgian … the untimely death of a beloved family pet.”
The court looked back more than a century to cases involving horses to make its decision.
The defense argued that the compensation for a lost pet, which is personal property, should be the fair market value of the pet. The Court of Appeals decided, however, that the proper measure was the actual value to the owner without considering the pet’s sentimental value.
The Court of Appeals said that the reasonable amount an owner spent to treat a pet could be considered in deciding the pet’s value to the owner.
That’s where the Supreme Court disagreed, instead choosing something between the standards of fair market value and actual value to the owner.
The high court decided that owners of a pet killed or injured through negligence should be awarded the pet’s fair market value with interest plus the reasonable amount spent on the pet’s care.
It’s up to a jury to determine fair market value, based on witness testimony about the breed, age, abilities and uses of the animal, so even though Lola didn’t cost the Monyaks anything to acquire, she might have had some market value. And they could win any or all of what they spent to save her life if they can prove the kennel caused her fatal illness.
The American Veterinary Medical Association, whose members would be subject to expensive lawsuits if pet owners could seek compensation for sentimental value, praised the Georgia ruling.