Georgia court rejects pet’s intrinsic value appeal

Published on June 17, 2015
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Earlier this year, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s decision that damages for a dog that had no market value can be based on the animal’s intrinsic value to its owners, who sued a kennel alleging wrongful death.

The appellate court, in its March 30 ruling, also found the trial court erred in allowing plaintiffs to introduce evidence of noneconomic factors demonstrating the dog’s actual value apart from its market value.

The case arose after Robert and Elizabeth Monyak boarded their Dachshund mix and Labrador Retriever at Barking Hound Village in Atlanta in 2012. Shortly after the Monyaks picked up their dogs, the Dachshund had acute renal failure. After receiving kidney dialysis during a nine-month period, the dog died in March 2013.

The Monyaks sued Barking Hound Village and owner William Furman for damages, alleging that while boarded, the deceased dog was given toxic doses of an NSAID that had been prescribed not for it but for the Labrador Retriever. The Monyaks had left the medication at the kennel with directions to administer it to the Labrador.

The Monyaks alleged various claims of negligence by Barking Hound Village and Furman. They sought compensatory damages including more than $67,000 in veterinary and other expenses allegedly incurred in treating the ill dog. They also alleged fraud and deceit and sought damages for litigation expenses as well as punitive damages.

The trial court determined that veterinary expenses and other costs incurred while treating the dog’s illness could be presented along with noneconomic factors as evidence of the pet’s “actual value” to the Monyaks. The defendants  asserted that the proper measure for assessing damages was market value of the dog, and they appealed the ruling.

The Georgia VMA, AVMA, American Animal Hospital Association, American Kennel Club, and The Cat Fanciers’  Association were among several pet owner and animal welfare organizations that filed an amicus brief with the appellate court in support of the defendants’ claims.

The organizations claim the trial court made two “major” errors in establishing the measure of damages available in pet litigation for acts of negligence. “First, it allowed plaintiffs to introduce evidence of noneconomic damages for the injury to their pet. Second, it allowed plaintiffs to subjectively value their pet at tens of thousands of dollars based on factors highly variable from owner to owner, namely how much money owners have and are willing to spend on their pets,” the brief states.

The Monyaks argued, and the trial court agreed, that since Georgia courts have recognized an alternative measure of damages for certain items that have little or no market value but substantial personal value to the owner, that alternative measure of damages—the “actual value to the owner”—should be applied in this case.

But the appellate court found the lower court should not have allowed the introduction of noneconomic factors. In so doing, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed that the determination of a pet’s actual value is measured objectively.