Your pet is a member of your family. When they are injured in a car accident, it’s just as emotionally trying on you as if a person you loved was hurt. Not only that, you may be faced with large veterinary bills as well.
As with most locations in the United States, pets are considered personal property” under Florida law. However, the Florida Supreme Court has also established that pet owners may be entitled to emotional damages if a pet is harmed by the intentional or reckless acts of another. And if it is a trained service animal, those damages may be much greater.
In today’s post we’ll examine how pet injury claims work in detail, and the state laws that back them.
Pets as Property
No one thinks of their pet as a piece of property, naturally. State law doesn’t make a special distinction between pets and any other type of animal owned, however. The animal is seen as property for which you are entitled to fair market value if it is damaged or killed. For most pets, this constitutes no more than one or two thousand dollars, unless they are a show dog or have some similarly rare and valuable quality like being a completely pure breed.
Emotional Distress and Punitive Damages
Where Florida is a little different from most of the United States is that there is established legal precedent for awarding emotional damages based on an injury to a pet. The first major case of this nature, LaPorte v. Associated Independents, Inc., came about in the 1960s. The defendants were a trash collection company. One of their trash collectors cruelly threw a trash can at a miniature Daschund that was chained up outside a house. The owner came outside to find the dog dying and the trash collector laughing about it. In addition to awarding the pet owner for loss of their property, the court awarded them additional money for mental distress as well. They based this on a recognition of the special bond and affection between pets and their owners. Punitive damages were also awarded since the conduct was malicious.
The end result is that this ruling opened the door for pet owners to recover damages other than property value in a situation such as an auto accident. Emotional distress may be possible if the other party in the accident was careless or negligent, in addition to compensation for any vet bills you may have had. Punitive damages are a possibility in cases of open malice, such as running over an animal intentionally.
Service animals have a special status in Florida, so long as they are trained to perform tasks to aid with a disability. The law does not specify that dogs trained in this way have to be licensed or registered with the state or any local governments.
A service animal is not regarded by the state as being a simple pet. If it is trained to perform tasks, then it is a vital component of a disabled person’s daily function. This being the case, potential compensation is much greater if a service animal is injured or killed, as loss of the animal is tied to this loss of function.
Shiner Law Group has over 15 years of experience in litigating automotive accident cases, including those that have involved pets. We would like to put that experience to work in getting you the compensation you deserve. Give us a call at 561-777-7700 to get the process started. You can call 24 hours a day to set up a complimentary consultation. If you have a case, we won’t charge you any fees until we win or settle.