People are often surprised to learn that there may be no good legal solution if their dog or cat is injured. The law in Virginia is clear that our companion animals are personal property – and as with other property, your damages if your dog or cat is injured may be limited to your dog or cat’s “market value” or “replacement value.” In Virginia, the Court has made it very clear in negligence cases that you cannot recover emotional damages or any kind of compensation for emotional injury if your dog or cat is injured.
That makes damages in cases like veterinarian malpractice difficult because you are often limited to the “value” of your dog. For example, you may take your Labrador Retriever to get surgery for a torn ACL—a common occurrence in that breed. If the surgery is unsuccessful and your dog passes away during the surgery due to the veterinarian’s negligence, you may be able to win your veterinary malpractice case. However, your damages may be limited to the “replacement value” of your dog as personal property – without regard to how much your dog means to you as a family member.
Some jurisdictions have wrestled with the value of the loss or injury of a companion animal and have crafted creative solutions to the issue of damages in these cases. For instance, in Illinois, the courts may accept the cost of treatment if your dog is injured – under the theory that if the owner voluntarily paid thousands and thousands of dollars to treat the dog, that should be an indication of the value of the dog to the owner. Maryland by statute also defines compensatory damages as the “reasonable and necessary cost of veterinary care,” up to but not exceeding $7,500.
If you are thinking about taking legal recourse because of an injured pet, I would highly suggest contacting an experienced animal law attorney. They will be aware of your state’s laws and be able to help you understand your case.