Court rejects emotional distress claims for dog's death

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The Washington State Supreme Court has declined to review an appellate court decision against a pet owner's claim to emotional damages for witnessing the difficult euthanasia of his dog at Washington State University's veterinary teaching hospital in 2012.

The high court action let stand the initial trial court verdict, which reaffirmed Washington state law does not allow the recovery of emotional distress damages for the wrongful death of a pet.

In September 2012, Robert Repin, following the advice of his veterinarian, took his ailing 12-year-old Alaskan Malamute, Kaisa, to the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine's teaching hospital 200 miles away in Pullman. There, metastatic cancer was diagnosed, and Kaisa was given just months to live. The attending veterinarian recommended the dog be euthanized, and Repin agreed.

Repin alleges WSU veterinarians botched the euthanasia by failing to properly sedate Kaisa and administering Euthansol through a damaged catheter, resulting in perivascular leakage and causing his pet to suffer a painful death. Repin sued the veterinary college and attending veterinarian. He claimed he was entitled to recover noneconomic damages for several reasons, such as the veterinarian acted negligently and also broke the "euthanasia contract" of providing his pet a humane death.

The trial court summarily dismissed Repin's claims to emotional distress damages. Repin appealed, but this past March, Washington's Division III Court of Appeals ruled against him. However, Chief Judge George Fearing wrote a concurring opinion "to advocate a change in the law," calling on the state Supreme Court to rule that pets can be as emotionally valuable as people in cases of medical malpractice.

Repin then petitioned the state Supreme Court to review his case.

The AVMA is opposed to any recovery of noneconomic damages for animals, arguing it would ultimately harm animals by raising veterinary liability costs and making veterinary services less affordable. The Association is part of a coalition of veterinary, animal welfare, and pet owner organizations that files amicus briefs on select cases involving noneconomic damages.

In a brief submitted to the Washington State Supreme Court concerning Repin's appeal, the coalition wrote: "This Petition raises an issue of settled law. Amici appreciate the hardship of losing a pet, particularly when end-of-life decisions are made. But, Washington, as do other states, carefully limits when a person may seek emotion-based damages. Injuries to pets, just as to human best friends, many close relatives, and cherished possessions, do not fit within these restrictive categories.

"The Court of Appeals followed these long-standing principles in identifying and enforcing the liability boundaries in this case. The Court of Appeals ruling is also aligned with courts around the country in not allowing emotion-based damages for negligence involving pets."

The Supreme Court announced in August it would not hear Repin's appeal.