LEGAL MATTERS: What You’re Owed If Someone Harms Your Dog
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
First, she could be responsible for the market value of the dog. And, had the dog needed veterinary care, she certainly would have been liable to pay those bills.
Other recourse? Not in RI
Unlike some other states, however, there is no statute or case law in Rhode Island that would allow you to recover for the emotional turmoil endured by an owner who witnesses his or her dog killed. By Rhode Island law, dogs are considered property, much like an automobile or clothing. Like other property recovery for negligent damage or injury, it is limited to fair market value of the property or the cost to repair the property.
While this seems harsh, the Court has made it clear that a dog is not to be considered a family member for legal recovery purposes.
In 1995, Harriet B. Rowbotham sued James and Dorothy Maher alleging that when the Maher’s dogs attacked and killed her dog, she suffered emotional distress. The court denied recovery stating that under Rhode Island law one can only recover if the distress is caused by witnessing the death of a close relative. The court noted that the dog was not a close relative of Rowbotham.
The same holds true if your dog is injured or killed by someone else’s dog. Pursuant to § 4-13-16 a person may recover damages in a civil action from a dog owner where the dog causes an injury to a person or to another domestic animal, however you cannot recover emotional damages.
In the case where the attacking dog is off the owner’s property and has previously attacked a person or animal, the statute does allow recovery in excess of actual damages.
What about the vet?
What if your dog is injured by a veterinarian? Can you recover for malpractice? The answer is “yes” under a variety of theories including negligence, breach of contract, bailment, conversion and trespass to chattels. Under these theories you can possibly recover attorneys fees, interest and past and future expenses.
All of this is small comfort to someone who has lost a treasured pet or is caring for one that has been injured. In time, however, the trend in favor of treating pets less like property and more like family members may be adopted by Rhode Island lawmakers.
The foregoing is offered for informational purposes only and is not legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.
Susan G. Pegden is a litigation associate with the Law Firm of Hamel, Waxler, Allen & Collins in Providence. She is admitted to practice in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Rhode Island Association of Justice (RIAJ) and a member of the Rhode Island Women’s Bar Association.
Sean P. Feeney is a partner with the Law Firm of Hamel, Waxler, Allen & Collins. He is admitted to practice in Rhode Island, Illinois and Wisconsin. Mr. Feeney is a former special counsel to the City of Providence, military prosecutor with the United States Marine Corps and Special Assistant United States Attorney for the Central District of California.
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