California Court of Appeals Says Pets are More Than Inanimate Property

Posted on October 26, 2012

Animal Legal Defense Fund Filed Amicus Briefs on Behalf of Pet Owners

For immediate release

Contact:
Lisa Franzetta, ALDF
Megan Backus, ALDF

LOS ANGELES — Animals are fundamentally different than other forms of property, California’s Second District Court of Appeals ruled this week. The ruling permits owners of wrongfully injured pets to recover the "reasonable and necessary costs" of treating and caring for an injured animal. The national non-profit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed amicus briefs in the consolidated cases in support of Elisio Martinez, whose dog was shot by his neighbor, and Margaret Workman, whose dog was injured by veterinary negligence. David Zaft of Caldwell Leslie & Proctor provided pro bono assistance to ALDF.

Historically, the law has viewed animals as personal property akin to furniture–one of the fundamental problems facing animals, those who love them, and the attorneys who fight on their behalf. Traditionally, the measure of compensation for wrongfully injured or killed companion animals has been the animal’s market value or the cost of replacing the animal, which is almost nothing, especially in cases involving rescued or elderly animals.

In this week’s ruling, the Court of Appeals reviewed two cases. The first involved a German Shepherd named Gunner, who was shot by a neighbor and whose leg had to be amputated, costing his family more than $20,000. The second case involved a Golden Retriever named Katie, who underwent a severely botched surgical procedure in which a veterinarian nicked her intestine and left a piece of gauze in her body. The veterinarian’s error directly led to expensive emergency surgery, costing Katie’s family more than $37,000. In both cases, the trial court limited the plaintiffs’ recovery to the market value of their companions, a paltry fraction of what they spent to nurse them back to health.

The Court of Appeals, agreeing with ALDF’s amicus briefs, reversed the trial courts’ limitation of damages to market value. "Given . . . the reality that animals are living creatures, the usual standard of recovery for damaged personal property–market value–is inadequate when applied to injured pets," Justice Kathryn Doi Todd wrote in her opinion. People go to enormous lengths to care for their animal companions – and they do so because no individual animal is replaceable. As Justice Doi Todd put it, “animals are special, sentient beings, [and] unlike other forms of property, animals feel pain, suffer and die.” This week’s decision is consistent with a trend in tort cases involving animals: courts across the country increasingly recognize the inadequacy of valuing companion animals like inanimate objects, and many permit recovery in excess of market value when companion animals are injured or killed.

“This decision is a significant step forward for companion animals and their guardians,” said Matthew Liebman, ALDF senior attorney. “The legal system is finally starting to catch up with how the majority of people feel about the animals with whom they share their lives.”

Copies of the court’s opinion and ALDF’s amicus briefs are available upon request.


17 thoughts on “California Court of Appeals Says Pets are More Than Inanimate Property

  1. beverly leifer says:

    This is wonderful news! It’s about time the courts and law progress to the 21st century and recognize that pets are an integral part to families. Thank you for the work you do.

  2. Mila Ortiz says:

    Thank you!! I am in the midst of dealing with being told that my beloved pet who was killed by a negligent vet is viewed as property therefore there is nothing more than a civil suit that can be filed and this butcher, who even though he was found guilty by the Vet Board of my state can and will continue to practice without delay!

  3. Jennifer says:

    So sorry to hear that Mila. Companion animals are family members. We share your pain and wish you the best with your case. The law needs to adapt to the reality of what animals mean to our lives.

  4. Heidi says:

    This is awesome! Thank you so much ALDF.

  5. sherry says:

    Amen the lord performs miracles everyday they are our wonderful little babies and can’t help the environment they r in they just want r love and attention.

  6. Kathy Sengun says:

    This is wonderful news! I hope this trend continues all over the country. My beloved dog Cinnamon was lost by Banfield Vet and never recovered. I spent thousands of dollars trying to find him, and he has not been found yet. I live in GA and could not find anyone in the legal field to help me with my case. Banfield did not compensate me at all, would not help me pay for pet detectives, and told me from the very first that Cinnon would most likely never be found.
    I pray that no one ever has to go through what Cinnamon and I have, and of they do, they can be legally compensated.
    By the way, don’t use Petsmart or Banfield Vet. They seriously do not care at all and vet staff is very poorly trained.

  7. Kathy Sengun says:

    This is wonderful news! I hope this trend continues all over the country. My beloved dog Cinnamon was lost by Banfield Vet and never recovered. I spent thousands of dollars trying to find him, and he has not been found yet. I live in GA and could not find anyone in the legal field to help me with my case. Banfield did not compensate me at all, would not help me pay for pet detectives, and told me from the very first that Cinnon would most likely never be found.
    I pray that no one ever has to go through what Cinnamon and I have, and of they do, they can be legally compensated.
    By the way, don’t use Petsmart or Banfield Vet. They seriously do not care at all and vet staff is very poorly trained.

  8. Cheryl Phillips says:

    Court of Appeals…thank you on behalf of our “Furry Friends” who canot speak and have feelings too. This a giant step for their rights.

  9. Connie Knox says:

    Hooray for the animals and their guardians. When will people stop treating animals like an old pair of shoes. This is a step in the right direction.

  10. han says:

    animal cruelty is bad. dont do it? :)

  11. Susan pateracki says:

    Of course pets are more than an Inanimate Object How could that just be announced. I never knew they weren’t more than that before. Pets are part of the family and share all the emotions that a Human feels. They display fear, pain, panic, suffering, devotion to their Owners. Pets display love for their young and caring for them as good as any human could do, and sometimes much better than a human can do.

    Pets have every emotion a human has. If they were an inanimate property, they would not display such love and dedication. Mother dogs and cats are very protective of their babies and display pure love and care for their babies.

    How could anyone think differently. This is puzzling. It is almost 2013 and now they think pets may not be just an object but in actually a living being with emotions. When dogs are separated by their Owners, Loved Ones, they become very depressed and anxious.

    Have people been that ignorant to not understand this. Anyone that may think the that pets are no more than an object, sure answers why there is so much pet abuse and child abuse. With abuse rising in numbers, Abuser’s can easily start out by abusing and torturing pets, which they do. These people called psychopaths will do the same to children. The connection between the two that describe a very sick person’s view of having power over their Victim. People that abuse pets do so for the feeling of power. Those that abuse children do so by looking for something that makes them fill powerful.looking for power. Having power over Victims. That is why Abuser’s the two most Vulnerable Victims are children and pets. Only to satisfy their evil course of torturing pets. We have a epidemic of pets being abused and tortured. Pets make a easy prey for sick minds to prey on that makes them feel powerful. These same people will turn on a child for the same reasons. Is our country that far trailing behind when it comes to protecting the two most Vulnerable Victims.

  12. Congratulations to ALDF! Fabulous! Thank you for this massive achievement for animals. Sincerely, Sherry DeBoer Political Animals

  13. shannon robinson says:

    Can I please have a copy of ALDF’s amicus brief? Alternatively, if the case cite could be provided, I could just look it up on Lexis/Westlaw. Thank you!

  14. Beth L says:

    “The Court of Appeals, agreeing with ALDF’s amicus briefs, reversed the trial courts’ limitation of damages to market value. “Given . . . the reality that animals are living creatures…”

    I am very thankful for this ruling for those of us with companion animals. I hope this is a beginning to advocate that all nonhuman animals not be considered things in the eyes of the laws, including nonhuman animals we use for food, product testing, clothing, entertainment.

  15. Barbara says:

    This has made my day, finally people are starting to wake up. How on earth could an animal be seen as inanimate? They animate themselves and have feelings just as we do!

  16. Manel Dias says:

    At least the intellectual side of human brains are working properly with the people who lives in California. Animals/Pets equally important to a healthy living style. Since these creatures brings us somuch of happiness into our lives they are an integral part of any humanbeing. Bravo to the ALDF in California.

  17. brought my dog to emergency ER becsuse she was RESTLESS>was told to come back at 6:30 to pick her up..was called that she died. her specialist read her records and stated dog was NOT DYING according to xrays and blood tests. Both vets reguested treatment sheets to determined what happened,,,they asked me to get them,, I called to get them and receptioniost stated I could get them until I arrived,,,was told I couldn;t have them,, the record read”treatment sheet NOT TO BE FAXED TO OWNER OR REFERRING VET UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES’ Dr Johnson..I had to sue in court to get them.. cAN;T prove vet killed my dog but it is obvious a coveup… going to court again in two weeks,,,might be granted attorney fees… need assistance and/or advice..