Legal System Going to the Dogs
Let the Dogs Out" may be an entirely different tune if animal rights
advocates get their way in Colorado. In fact, dogcatchers, veterinarians,
pet groomers, pet sitters and even those chic new pet salons could
find themselves facing increased liability for letting the dogs
out should harm then come to Lassie, Benji, Spike or Fluffy.
lawmakers are entertaining a bill that would make dogs and cats
legal "companions" instead of property, effectively allowing people
to sue veterinarians or animal abusers for "loss of companionship."
Under the proposal, pet owners (oops, we mean companions)
could seek damages of up to $100,000 if a person hurts or destroys
the pet companion relationship in a negligent or intentional way
by causing the pet's death. In other words, pet care providers
better keep a close eye on the four-legged family members entrusted
them to avoid a lawsuit.
claim for loss of companionship would be closely analogous to a
claim for loss of consortium, except that the latter compensates
for the harm done to the marital relationship, while a loss of companionship
would compensate for the harm done to the relationship between a
master and dog or cat.
Colorado Veterinary Medical Association is opposed to the measure
and, in light of the current disastrous state of our human
health care system, its members are quite correct in wanting to
keep the effort on a short leash. "Veterinarians will have
to pass on to consumers the increased costs of doing [business],
including time spent responding to frivolous lawsuits and additional
diagnostic tests that will now be required to practice defensive
medicine," the association said in a statement.
offense to the 2 million dogs and cats in the 1.6 million households
in Colorado but has anyone stopped to consider the ridiculousness
of this proposal? Will divorce proceedings have to include "petamony"
payments? What will happen to Colorado's zoological parks? If the
property status of animals is changed, could animals hold legal
rights and sue for loss of companionship when the master dies?
already is among 14 states legally recognizing pets as beneficiaries,
allowing people to leave money and property to them. Current law
classifies cats and dogs as property, and pet owners can seek only
"fair market value" in a lawsuit. Boulder was the first city to
make pet owners "guardians" for their furry friends, followed closely
on the heels by the California cities of Berkeley, San Francisco
and West Hollywood and the State of Rhode Island.
courts have refused to permit pet owners to recover damages for
emotional distress or loss of companionship. Before adopting legislation
that expands the legal right to recover for loss of Fido's companionship,
it is important to acknowledge and resolve the current controversies
surrounding rights for the loss of companionship in parent-child
and same-sex partner relationships. In these situations, the legal
response differs drastically from state to state. Some states'
statutes provide recovery only for pecuniary injury, while other
state courts have at times interpreted pecuniary injury to include
damages for loss of companionship.
animal abuse, to the extent that the problem exists, should be accomplished
by strengthening the animal cruelty laws, not by adopting a dogmatic
approach to humanizing animals.
our current human health care system in crisis, both legally and
financially, all branches of government, at federal, state and local
levels, should make their pet projects the adoption of momentous
changes to curb tort abuse. This effort should not be dogged by
attempts to expand tort liability in non-human situations.
February 13, 2003]
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