The information provided refers primarily to New York laws and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice. Do not rely or act upon any information below without seeking the advice of an attorney in your state regarding the facts of your specific situation.
Courts have awarded monetary damages to people whose animals were negligently harmed at a grooming facility, kennel, or veterinary hospital (and elsewhere). If the act was intentional, the perpetrator may also be ordered to pay punitive damages (which is basically a civil “fine” for egregious behavior) and would likely be subject to criminal charges for cruelty to animals. Sadly, since many courts still view animals as property, animals’ “parents” do not typically receive significant compensation for their loss. Generally, compensation for emotional distress or loss of companionship is not awarded. However, there have been a few cases where courts considered more than the property value of the animal. For example, in one NY case, involving the death of a dog at a boarding facility, the court stated, in part:
Although the general rules and principles measure damages by assessing the property's market value, the fact that Ms. Brousseau's dog was a gift and a mixed breed and thus had no ascertainable market value need not limit plaintiff's recovery to a merely nominal award. Although the courts have been reluctant to award damages for the emotional value of an injured animal…, the court must assess the dog's actual value to the owner in order to make the owner whole…The court finds that plaintiff has suffered a grievous loss… Plaintiff testified that she experienced precisely the kind of psychological trauma associated with the loss of a pet that has received increased recent public attention… As loss of companionship is a long-recognized element of damages in this State…the court must consider this as an element of the dog's actual value to this owner…Brousseau v. Rosenthal, 110 Misc.2d 1054 (Civ. Ct., NY County 1980).
Some NY courts have also held that “the proper measure of damages in a case involving injury suffered by a pet animal is the reasonable and necessary cost of reasonable veterinary treatment.” Zager v. Dimilia, 524 N.Y.S.2d 968 (Just. Ct. Village of Pleasantville 1988).
In addition, every state has a veterinary licensing board that accepts complaints. In New York, The New York State Education Department Office of the Professions reviews such complaints. Veterinarians found guilty of misconduct may be fined, and/or have their licenses suspended or revoked. For further information, contact the Department at 800-442-8108; www.op.nysed.gov.