State high court sets the value of a pet killed by someone’s negligence

The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday ruled when a person’s pet dies or is injured due to someone’s negligence, the owner can collect monetary damages based on the fair market value of the animal but not based on the sentimental value of the pet to its owners.

As for arguments owners should collect damages based on the sentimental value

of a pet, the justices said they believed “the unique human-animal bond, while cherished, is beyond legal measure.”

The unanimous decision also said that in such cases the pet’s owners can seek to recover what they spent in veterinary and other costs in trying to save the animal.

The court also ruled that juries can consider "qualitative" evidence when determining the market value of a pet.

"We see no reason why opinion evidence, both qualitative and quantitative, of an animal's particular attributes -- e.g., breed, age, training, temperament and use -- should be any less admissible than similar evidence offered in describing the value of other types of property," Thompson wrote. "The key is ensuring that such evidence relates to the value of the dog in a fair market, not the value of the dog solely to its owner."

The ruling addresses a lawsuit filed by Robert and Elizabeth Monyak who in 2012 boarded their two dogs, Lola, an 8-year-old dachshund mix, and Callie, a 13-year-old mixed labrador retriever, for 10 days at Barking Hound Village, an Atlanta kennel. The Monyaks contend the kennel gave Lola medication she wasn’t supposed to receive, leading to her death nine months later of renal failure.

The state high court ruled that pets are considered to be property and for this reason plaintiffs can only recover the market value of that property when it was destroyed.

“Generally, in a suit to recover damages to personal property it is a well-established principle that ‘a plaintiff cannot recover an amount of damages … greater than the fair market value of the property prior to impairment,” Chief Justice Hugh Thompson wrote for the court.

But in a ruling by the court more than 120 years ago, Thompson noted, the proper way to measure the damages to be recovered by a pet’s owner includes “not only the full market value of the animal at the time of the loss plus interest, but also expenses incurred by the owner in an effort to cure the animal.”

In their lawsuit, the Monyaks seek to recover more than $67,000 in veterinary and other expenses incurred in treating Lola before she died. The kennel denies any wrongdoing.