When a pet or other animal is injured or killed by a person or another animal, the owner is often entitled to damages even if the animal was not harmed on purpose. If the injury or death was accidental, the conduct must meet the legal standard for negligence if recovery is sought.Recovery in the form of economic damages is the most common form of compensation available to owners of pets or other animals that have been injured or harmed. Economic damages usually consist of the market value (typically the purchase price or replacement cost) of the animal, veterinary care, training costs, breeding costs, loss of breeding income, and other measurable monetary costs resulting from the injury or death of the animal.
Non-economic or special damages, such as emotional distress or loss of companionship, are increasingly being sought in animal wrongful death or injury cases. These costs can often be substantial.
The type of compensation available to animal owners differs significantly from state to state and depends to a great degree on the facts and circumstances of each case. Those who argue that non-economic damages should be permitted in cases involving animals, maintain that the value of the animal to its owner often goes far beyond its economic or “replacement” value. They argue that the emotional bond between humans and their pets or other animals can equal the bond experienced between two people, and that pets are often treated as members of the family. Therefore, damage awards based on the pecuniary cost of the animal are inadequate to compensate the owner of an animal that has been wrongfully killed according to the law.
Many animal rights lawyers also argue that punitive or exemplary damages should be awarded in animal wrongful death or injury cases. Some statutes specifically authorize punitive damages in animal death or injury cases. These statutes typically place a cap on the amount that can be awarded. Punitive damages are awarded to a plaintiff over and above compensatory damages, whether economic or non-economic. Punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer and to deter others from future similar wrongful actions.
Those who express concern, or otherwise oppose compensation for non-economic damages, argue that permitting larger recoveries will only encourage a flood of lawsuits without providing additional protections to animals. They express particular concern about the effect of larger compensation awards on veterinary medicine. If non-economic damage awards are permitted, opponents say veterinary malpractice premiums will increase significantly. Veterinarians will begin practicing defensive medicine to avoid potential lawsuits. The end result will be much higher costs for animal medical care, which in the end will discourage many people from seeking routine veterinary care for their animals.