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Can I sue for injury or death of my pet dog or cat and can I recover emotional damages?


February 2, 2017 by Tom Roberts, Esq.

Question: Somebody injured or killed by dog or cat, what are the damages a court will award?
Short Answer: The market value of the personal property (no emotional damages)  but, the reasonable costs to treat the injuries may exceed the value of the pet.

Even though dogs and cats and other pets are just “personal property”, if an animal is injured in such a way that proper care and attention reasonably may be expected to effect a cure, the expense properly incurred for this purpose is a part of the damage to the owner, for which he is entitled to compensation even if that expense exceeds the diminution in the animal’s market value.

On July 11, 2023, the Virginia Court of Appeals explained that even though just “personal property” damages which may include the costs to treat and care for the injured dog may exceed the animal’s market value. Blue Pearl Veterinary v Anderson (2023) 

Damages for injury to personal property typically are confined to the diminution of the value of the property and any reasonable and necessary expenses incurred. It is a question for the jury or trier of facts to determine what expenses including treatment are “reasonable and necessary expenses” even if they exceed the market value of the animal.  Id.

Virginia legislature has classified dogs and cats as personal property and specifically states that the owner of any dog or cat injured or killed contrary to the law may sue to recover the “value thereof or the damage done thereto.”  § 3.2-6585

Damages for such losses are confined to the diminution in the value of the property …, plus reasonable and necessary expenses incurred.  White Consolidated Industry v. Swiney, 237 Va. 23, 30, 376 S.E.2d 283, 287, 5 Va. Law Rep. 1364 (1989).  The owner is not entitled to recover damages for the loss of companionship or the emotional loss to the owner.

In 2006, the Virginia Supreme Court addressed damages to pets:

It is beyond debate that animals, particularly dogs and cats, when kept as pets and companions, occupy a position in human affections far removed from livestock. Especially in the case of owners who are disabled, aged or lonely, an emotional bond may exist with a pet resembling that between parent and child, and the loss of such an animal may give rise to grief approaching that attending the loss of a family member. The fact remains, however, that the law in Virginia, as in most states that have decided the question,[See Footnote 1] regards animals, however beloved, as personal property. The General Assembly, in Code § [3.2-6575], expressly declared:  “All dogs and cats shall be deemed personal property. . . .”

That section also provides the remedy for the injury of such an animal by allowing the owner “to recover the value thereof or the damage done thereto in an appropriate action at law. . . .” Our decisions have never approved an award of damages for emotional distress resulting from negligently inflicted injury to personal property, and the General Assembly, having had such an opportunity when considering Code § [3.2-6575], evidently declined to do so. We conclude that permitting such an award would amount to a sweeping change in the law of damages, a subject properly left to legislative consideration. It follows that the defendants’ Instruction T correctly stated the existing law and that the trial court erred in refusing it.

Kondaurov v. Kerdasha, 270 Va. 356, 367-68, 619 S.E.2d 457, 463-64 (2005), (opinion withdrawn for rehearing but the provisions cited above were reissued in the opinion dated April 21, 2006, )

Footnote 1:  Most jurisdictions deny recovery of damages for emotional distress arising from injury or death of animals caused by ordinary negligence on the ground that animals are, at common law, and sometimes by statute, deemed personal property. See, e.g. Mitchell v. Heinrichs, 27 P.3d 309 (Alaska 2001); Roman v. Carroll, 621 P.2d 307 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1980); Pantelopoulos v. Pantelopoulos, 869 A.2d 280 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2005); Nichols v. Sukaro Kennels, 555 N.W.2d 689 (Iowa 1996); Krasnecky v. Meffen, 777 N.E.2d 1286 (Mass. App. Ct. 2002); Koester v. VCA Animal Hospital, 624 N.W.2d 209 (Mich. Ct. App. 2000); Fackler v. Genetzky, 595 N.W.2d 884 (Neb. 1999); Harabes v. Barkery, Inc., 791 A.2d 1142 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2001); Fowler v. Town of Ticonderoga, 516 N.Y.S.2d 368 (N.Y. App. Div. 1987); Strawser v. Wright, 610 N.E.2d 610 (Ohio Ct. App. 1992); Daughen v. Fox, 539 A.2d 858 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1988); Miller v. Peraino, 626 A.2d 637 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1993); Petco Animal Supplies, Inc. v. Schuster, 144 S.W.3d 554 (Tex. App. 2004); Pickford v. Maison, 98 P.3d 1232 (Wash. Ct. App. 2004); Julian v. De Vincent, 184 S.E.2d 535 (W. Va. 1971); Rabideau v. City of Racine, 627 N.W.2d 795 (Wis. 2001). But see Campbell v. Animal Quarantine Station, 632 P.2d 1066 (Haw. 1981). Some jurisdictions expressly permit recovery of damages for emotional distress in cases of animals injured or killed by willful, intentional, or outrageous torts. See, e.g., La Porte v. Associated Independents, Inc., 163 So.2d 267 (Fla. 1964); Gill v. Brown, 695 P.2d 1276 (Idaho Ct. App. 1985); Burgess v. Taylor, 44 S.W.3d 806 (Ky. Ct. App. 2001); Brown v. Crocker, 139 So.2d 779 (La. Ct. App. 1962).

You need experienced counsel.  You should contact a lawyer with the law firm of Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, P.C. today.   Call 804-783-2000

Thomas H. Roberts, Esq.
Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, P.C.
105 S 1st Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
(804) 783-2000
(804) 783-2105 fax 


 The materials are prepared for information purposes only.  The materials are not legal advice.  You should not act upon the information without seeking the advice of an attorney.  Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship.


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