Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Are our pets just property or are they more than that?

As the Washington Post reports:

Jeffrey Nanni has sued his former domestic partner, Maurice Kevin Smith, alleging that Smith maliciously killed their 12-pound Chihuahua, Buster, two years ago by hitting him with a wooden board. Smith has denied killing Buster but was found guilty of assault and battery and cruelty to animals in connection with the incident.

Since Buster's death, the suit says, Nanni, 42, a paralegal, "continues to suffer severe emotional distress" and should be compensated for it. The suit asks for monetary damages for Buster's worth to Nanni, "which includes Buster's unique value . . . as a companion animal."

The case goes to trial next week in Arlington, Virginia, and is said to be one which could "redefine Virginia property law in the process."

If treated as just property, then the plaintiff wouuld be entitled to, at most, the replacement cost for a similar breed from a breeder.

I am somewhat surprised that this case is described as capable of redefining property law in Virginia. Even in Puerto Rico, where we have not been all that hot in protecting the rights of animals, the Commonwealth Supreme Court long ago recognized that when a pet owner suffers damages, including pain and suffering, as a result of injury to the pet, there is a cause of actionb against the owner of another animal who caused the injuries. The damages that may be claimed are nbot limited to the veterinary bills for the injured pet, but also encompass the suffering caused to the pet owner as a result of those injuries - a separate injury. See Infante v. Leith, 85 D.P.R. 26 (1962) (in Spanish, as I can't locate the English translation in Westlaw, sorry).