Friday, November 19, 2010

A Landmark Case in the Making.

I have been following the development of animal law in Illinois for several years. Check here and here for prior posts relating to damages for injuries to pets. This is very much an emerging area of law and one that has not received a whole lot of publicity, until now. Unless a settlement is reached quickly, there is the potential for a landmark case to come out of Arizona for the wrongful death of Target - a dog and national hero.

According to the NY Times, Target saved the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan when it and two other dogs confronted a suicide bomber that had entered the barracks. The dogs barked and snarled until the man detonated his bomb. One of the dogs died in the blast. Five soldiers were injured, but none were killed. The two surviving dogs were flown back to the U.S. by a charity and adopted by military families. Target was adopted by an Army medic who witnessed the incident and treated the wounded soldiers.

Target returned to a hero's welcome. She was on the Oprah Winfrey Show. She had her own facebook page. She was on the news on every television network. Then she wandered from her family's back yard and was captured by County Animal Control. Animal Control put the dog's picture on their website in an attempt to notify the owner. The owner immediately saw the picture and paid the pound's recovery fee online. But before the owner could come pick up the dog, a staff member mistook Target for another dog and euthanized her.

The unidentified woman has been placed on administrative leave. The County has ordered an investigation. The County has also provided grief counselors to the family. Oh ya, and the family has already talked to a lawyer. Even if a lawsuit is never filed, this case has the potential to be one of the largest settlements ever for the wrongful death of a pet.  I will be interested to see how this turns out.  If anyone hears any news in the future, please share it with me.


Anonymous said...

Wrongful death of pet as an action does not exist. Courts generally have awarded damages based on pets as a type of "special property" akin to heirlooms and other types of property the damage or destruction of which can yield a damages award greater than "market value" and costs expended during the course of animal treatment.

In instances of animal cruelty (in IL and TN, specifically) an owner may recover damages for emotional distress to the owner. IL also allows for "capped" punitive damages.

Arizona does not have such a statue to my knowledge.

Also, I think you run into problems bringing suit for a "mistake" against a county/government entity(tort immunity.) The County's biggest problem is most likely PR.

(510 ILCS 70/16.3)

§ 16.3. Civil actions. Any person who has a right of ownership in an animal that is subjected to an act of aggravated cruelty under Section 3.02 or torture under Section 3.03 in violation of this Act or in an animal that is injured or killed as a result of actions taken by a person who acts in bad faith under subsection (b) of Section 3.06 or under Section 12 of this Act may bring a civil action to recover the damages sustained by that owner. Damages may include, but are not limited to, the monetary value of the animal, veterinary expenses incurred on behalf of the animal, any other expenses incurred by the owner in rectifying the effects of the cruelty, pain, and suffering of the animal, and emotional distress suffered by the owner. In addition to damages that may be proven, the owner is also entitled to punitive or exemplary damages of not less than $500 but not more than $25,000 for each act of abuse or neglect to which the animal was subjected. In addition, the court must award reasonable attorney's fees and costs actually incurred by the owner in the prosecution of any action under this Section.

Michael W. Huseman said...

This is an ordinary case of negligence. I agree that I wouldn't file a case titled "wrongful death of a pet." It is my fault for using common parlance, not technical terms.

I disagree, however, that this is only a PR problem. There are several exceptions to the tort immunity statutes, including wilful and wanton conduct, ultrahazardous activities, hazardous recreational activities at school, etc.

Don't concede to the defense lawyer's assertion of immunity. Remember, there are exceptions to every rule.

The exception to tort immunity in this case involves the county's duty to use ordinary care in the execution of their own policies.

Government entities do have immunity for their discretionary policy determinations. Therefore, the county can't be sued just because they euthanized your dog.

However, if they have a policy regarding which dogs to euthanize and which dogs not to euthanize, they subject themselves to liability once they disregard their own stated policy.

There is actually a term for this that I can't remember as I sit here on Sunday morning and type. I had a case on this particular exception to tort immunity a couple of years ago though. I will look it up and write a new post about it next week. This is actually a good topic of discussion. Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

The wrongful death of Target the dog shines a light on the lack of discrimination on the part of shelters when it coems to killing pets. Most people think that only the dangerous, sick, undesireable or untrainable are killed but that is very far from the truth. ANY animal will be killed if it's in the way; young, highly trained, purebred, super friendly, whole litters of babies, it does not matter. The shelter CEO's only care about their profits. It's a cruel and very abusive system that is long overdue for a complete overhaul. Often the animals are not euthanized humanely at all, they are crammed in high numbers into a drum that is raised up and then dropped so that all the air is sucked out of their lungs, and this is legal... The shelter system is the number one killer of pets and it is the number one animal abuser in the Nation. Maybe Target's tragic death will help to bring some badly needed change to the treatment of pets in shelters. People say; "well, they do the best they can", that's a lie that they tell themselves so they don't have to feel bad. I hope that at LEAST Target was humanely killed, though a kill-happy employee like the one who killed Target is not usually kind about it, they love it too much. That employee has GOT to be fired, and the CEO of the shelter as well. I hope that there is a huge lawsuit over this that gains National attention.