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How Much Is Your Pet Worth, Legally?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 14, 2016 6:59 AM

Priceless. That's what most of us pet owners would tell you about the value of our dogs, cats, and other furry, feathered, or scaly pets. (Well, maybe not cats, though as a dog owner, I might be biased.) But the Georgia Supreme Court might soon attach a dollar figure to your favorite non-human -- in an upcoming case, the court will decide whether, and how much, a family should be compensated for the loss of their dog.

So how much do you think Fido is worth?

Kennel Liability

The Monyak family had two dogs -- Lola, an 8-year-old dachshund mix, and Callie, a 13-year-old, arthritic Labrador retriever -- but couldn't bring either on vacation to France, so checked both into The Inn, a luxury kennel in Atlanta. Along with the dogs, the family gave the kennel Callie's arthritis medication, Rimadyl, with strict instructions for use.

The rest, as reported The Washington Post, is just too sad:

"The Monyaks said in an interview that when they picked the dogs up, Lola had no appetite. The next day, she was trembling. A veterinarian diagnosed acute renal failure, almost certainly from an overdose of Rimadyl. Nine months later, after treatment from Atlanta veterinarians and multiple dialysis treatments in Florida, Lola died."

Kennel Damages

Aside from determining whether The Inn or owners Barking Hound Village are at fault for Lola's death, the court is being asked to determine how much Lola is worth, or how much the Monyaks should be compensated for her loss. Before she passed, the family spent some $67,000 on veterinary costs and treatment trying to save her.

The Monyaks are asking for that money, along with non-economic damages like loss of companionship. Barking Hound Village countered, saying that, as a free mutt, Lola is essentially worth nothing. In its filing, the kennel argued, "The mixed-breed dachshund had no special training or unique characteristics other than that of 'family dog.'"

But shouldn't "family dog" be enough? After all, this particular family spent hundreds or maybe thousands to give Lola the best possible home away from home, money that was based on their affection for the dog and that Barking Hound Village was happy to accept.

So where are courts on the matter? Most have refused to award emotional damages in pet death cases, leaving it up to juries to award "reasonable" veterinary expenses. And some states have enacted caps on how much a plaintiff can recover for the loss of a pet. We'll see what the Georgia Supreme Court has to say, but it's unlikely to change how pet owners feel about their best friends.

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