Press Release

Washington Supreme Court Urged to Consider the True Value of Humans’ Relationship with Companion Animals

Animal Legal Defense Fund’s amicus brief urges the court to review a case regarding the negligent death of a dog and the resulting emotional damages


SEATTLE — The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an amicus curiae brief urging the court to hear a case pertaining to the type of damages that could be awarded resulting from the negligent death of Clementine, a young pug who served as an emotional support animal for Kevin Flynn. The brief argues courts should recognize the value of the human-animal bond and unique personalities of companion animals to be reflective of societal values. The Court of Appeals decision that the Animal Legal Defense Fund is requesting to be reviewed was issued on March 6, 2023.

After noticing Clementine was unwell, the Flynn family took her to an animal hospital multiple times over the course of a few weeks for care. After suspecting her bladder may have ruptured while in the hospital’s care, the facility sent Clementine to another hospital for emergency surgery, where she later died during recovery after going into septic shock.

The Flynn family filed a lawsuit for corporate negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, professional negligence and breach of veterinary services contract. The Superior Court dismissed the claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress and corporate negligence. The Washington State Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an amicus curiae in support of the Flynn family’s petition for review.

“The traditional approach to compensation in negligence cases involving animal death fails to account for the emotional harm suffered by the human guardian when they lose a member of the family like Clementine after having a strong bond,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Managing Attorney Christopher Berry. “The court must consider the special relationship families have with their companion animal in these cases.”

In cases involving negligently killed companion animals, making an injured party whole should account for the value of emotional bonds and companionship that lie at the heart of human relationships with animals. Animals, particularly companion animals, hold a unique status in our society and in U.S. families. These animals are regarded as family members, and they cannot be replaced by simply adopting another animal. The law should, therefore, take into account this special status when considering damages in cases of negligent death of companion animals.

The amicus brief argues the lower court of appeal decision fails to adequately appreciate the emotional distress caused by the negligent death of companion animals, conflicting with this court’s precedent that the fundamental principle of tort law is making an aggrieved party whole. Given that a significant majority of Americans view their animals as family members, a purely economic or market value assessment fails to account for the emotional distress suffered by the owners. The appellate decision in this case, and decisions in similar cases, conflicts with the principles of tort law and should be reviewed.

In April 2023, the Wyoming Supreme Court held a hearing about whether emotional distress damages were available in a case where a family alleges that they helplessly watched their dogs die in illegally set snares on public land. The availability of emotional distress damages is not just a private concern of the aggrieved animal’s family, but a matter of public interest in Washington and throughout the country that speaks to the special status of animals in our society and our commitment to fairness.

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