CHICAGO - Area pet owners who saw a recent Georgia Supreme Court ruling on the value of pets in negligent death cases might be wondering what impact the ruling will have in regards to their animal friends; however, an area attorney is saying that the impact of the ruling should be rather limited.
"Each state addresses the valuation of animals differently," Anna Morrison-Ricordati, attorney for AMR Law Group, told the Cook County Record. "Unless and until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issue, or if individual states or federal authorities pass legislation on the issue, each state may continue to do so and rulings of the state supreme courts impact only that state."
In June, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled, in cases in which a pet was killed through negligence, the owners could collect damages based on the market value of the animal, but not any damages related to the value of the owner's emotional connection to or relationship with the animal, which they called "beyond legal measure."
The court, however, cited 120-year-old precedent that stated damages in such a case may include any veterinary bills or other financial efforts made to save the life of an animal. In the case at hand, two dogs were placed in an Atlanta kennel for 10 days, where the owners contend that one of the dogs was given medication it didn't need. The dog died 9 months later of renal failure. The family was awarded the market value of the animal plus approximately $67,000 in medical bills.
Morrison-Ricordati was somewhat surprised by that portion of the ruling.
"In a traditional 'fair market valuation' approach, damages over the 'fair market value' would not have been allowed, such as spending $50,000 to restore a car that could be replaced for $10,000," she said.
Illinois has had two court cases that have addressed this same issue, which were heard in Illinois First and Fourth District Appellate courts. While both have in some way acknowledged the so-called "value of companionship," they held to a similar "market value plus veterinary expenses" approach seen in the Georgia ruling. Morrison-Ricordati pointed out that without any higher law, such as rulings from the U.S. or Illinois Supreme Court, the state appellate court rulings would likely be cited and followed by other state jurisdictions in Illinois.
While the inclusion of veterinary costs in wrongful animal death cases is being seen as a victory, Morrison-Ricordati says one major issue still remains.
"While the Georgia case likely represents at least some advancement for animal valuation, with respect to the veterinary expenses, it does not address the obvious flaw in cases involving veterinary malpractice," she said. "In those cases, limiting the 'damages' to what the vet charged the person seeking care for his/her animal creates a disincentive for the vet to save the animal's life once a mistake has occurred, because doing so creates greater exposure for losses to the vet than just allowing the animal to die."