Legal Distress Claims Denied
The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled recently on a case that will strike pet owners and their beloved pets in a way that seems unfair. A recent court case in which an owner watched her dog be maimed and killed by another dog caused her to claim for damages due to emotional distress. The court denied that claim. A midlevel appeals court affirmed the denial of damages for emotional distress, and the New Jersey State Supreme Court upheld the decision.
Under current New Jersey law, people are allowed to sue for emotional distress if they see close family members die. The court stated in defense of its ruling, “The bond shared between humans and animals is often an emotional and enduring one. Permitting it to support a recovery for emotional distress, however, would require either that we vastly expand the classes of human relationships that would qualify …or that we elevate relationships with animals above those we share with other human beings.”
Certainly the ruling brought little comfort to Joyce McDougall, who brought the complaint. She sued the other dog’s owner for both expenses for her dog and for damages for emotional distress. Despite Ms. McDougall’s testimony about her closeness to her pet, the court only awarded her $5,000 in damages for the value of her dog, a Maltese-poodle mix.
Experts stated they understood the court’s choice to restrict damages for emotional distress to the current definition, but suggested that a resolution put forth by state legislatures could place limits on applicable situations and awards.
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