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Pet is Personal Property so no Emotional Distress Damages for Pet's Death

Torts--Damages for Veterinary Malpractice Limited to Fair Market Value of Pet'

Kaufman v. Langhoffer, 572 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 11 (App., Div. I, December 22, 2009)(J. Norris)

PET IS PERSONAL PROPERTY AND REMEDY FOR VETERINARY MALPRACTICE IS THE FMV OF THE PET; EMOTIONAL DISTRESS DAMAGES NOT RECOVERABLE

Plaintiff owned a scarlet Macaw appropriately named "Salty." Salty was "intelligent, affectionate and playful." Salty got sick. Plaintiff took him to the defendant vet who performed two surgeries after which Salty died. The jury found fault but awarded no damages.

On appeal the Court of Appeal first recognized that a pet is personal property. Second the court stated the only circumstance where a plaintiff can recover emotional distress damages for the loss or damage to personal property is where the tort directly harmed the plaintiff and burdened a personal rather than economic interest of the plaintiff. Here the vet's alleged negligence harmed Salty but did not directly harm the plaintiff so no emotional distress damages are allowed.

Finally the court supported its holding by pointing out that to allow emotional distress and lost companionship damages to a pet owner would give greater rights for the death of a pet than a person. In Arizona, a plaintiff can only recover for the death of another person if he or she is a proper wrongful death beneficiary or was in the "zone of danger" when the third person was injured or killed. Although Salty was no doubt dearly loved and is greatly missed, he was neither the spouse, parent nor child of the plaintiff and the plaintiff was not within the zone of danger when Salty kicked the bucket.

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