Appeals Court Considers Noneconomic Damages Owed to the Owners of Dogs Poisoned by Neighbor

Posted on October 17, 2011

What Is a Dog Worth? Oral Argument in Heartbreaking Case Addresses How Our Legal System Values Companion Animals

For immediate release

Megan Backus, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Diane Balkin, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Kate Burke, Attorney for Plaintiffs/Appellants

Kirby and BoomerFountain, Colo. – Tomorrow morning, the Colorado Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in a case regarding the damages owed to several pet owners whose five beloved dogs were killed in 2006 after eating poisoned meat left near their property in Adams County by a neighbor who said he was attempting to kill coyotes. The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in the appeal after the trial court instructed the jury that the dog owners’ economic damages should be measured by the market value “cost” of their dogs, rather than the true “value” of their dogs. As a result of this and other rulings of the trial court, the monetary damages awarded to the plaintiffs at the trial court level did not adequately compensate the plaintiffs for their noneconomic losses that resulted from the terrifying deaths of their unique, irreplaceable animal companions.

When: Tuesday, October 18, 10:00 a.m.
Where: Fountain-Fort Carson High School
900 Jimmy Camp Road, Fountain, Colo.

The plaintiffs include veterinarians, a horse trainer, and a boy who was nine-years-old at the time of the incident; their dogs Boomer, Kirby, Rooster, Tanner, and Doc all ate chicken meat that Daniel Bowen left outside after soaking it for two days in a highly poisonous herbicide–and suffered torturous deaths as a result. Doc died relatively quickly, but the other dogs were in agonizing distress for over a week, while their owners spent thousands of dollars on veterinary care, missed significant time from work, and endured excruciating emotional distress before their beloved companions succumbed. Bowen was charged with criminal cruelty to animals (charges were later dismissed on a technicality), and plaintiffs testified that he did not apologize and expressed no remorse for the deaths of their dogs.

In tomorrow’s hearing, the plaintiffs’ attorneys will argue, among other legal issues, and supported by the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s amicus brief, that the law recognizes companion animals as a special kind of property, different than a table or a car, and that they cannot be assigned value in the same way as an inanimate object. Further, they will argue that because the jury in Sullivan et al. v. Bowen was incorrectly instructed on how to attach a value to the lost dogs and all of the injuries the plaintiffs suffered, the plaintiffs were denied the full damages to which they were entitled.

“When cherished pets die, the sense of emotional loss is real– and when they are gone, they are irreplaceable. Thus, their actual value far exceeds the sticker price of another animal of the same species,” explains ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells. “Jurisdictions across the nation are now recognizing that when people lose their companion animals through an act of abuse or negligence, they are entitled to damages that accurately reflect those losses.” Attorney Kate Burke of Durango, representing the plaintiffs along with Denver attorney Rosemary Orsini, said she hopes that the Sullivan case will “encourage Colorado to join those states that apply an ‘actual value’ or ‘special value’ test to measure the losses when companion animals are wrongfully injured or killed.”

The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s amicus curiae brief can be viewed on the Court’s website. All court briefs in Kathleen Sullivan et al. v. Daniel Bowen can be viewed here.

Oral argument is being heard by the Court of Appeals at Fountain-Fort Carson High School as a part of the Courts in the Community program, designed to give high school students a hands-on experience of the Colorado judicial system. ALDF Attorney Diane Balkin will be attending the hearing and will be available for interviews.

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