January 28, 2019
At Hensley Legal Group, we love pets. Our staff members are dog lovers and cat lovers and we care about our animals as if they were part of the family.
Both owners and their pets are protected under law against harm that causes economic and non-economic damages, and you can recover the money spent on medical bills by filing a personal injury claim.
This means if your pet is injured or killed due to reckless or intentional behavior, you can also recover veterinary bills and maybe even compensation for emotional distress.
Pets’ Rights Under the Law
Though similar in principle, Indiana law distinguishes pets’ rights from humans’ rights in a few distinct ways. First, pets are seen as property, meaning their owners are usually compensated for the cost of the pet and its medical bills, and emotional distress is only considered in specific cases.
Second, just like in personal injury claims, pet property claims consider who’s at fault. This looks a little different in pet claims and may not use the same language. However, the principle is fairly similar. For example, if a person injures a pet because the pet attacked them, you’d struggle to find grounds to file a pet property claim because your pet’s injury was a result of the other person’s self-defense.
Third, just like with car accident claims, you can pursue criminal charges against an individual who intentionally hurts your pet. If you suffer injury in a car accident, you can pursue compensation against the at-fault driver for their negligence. That means that the at-fault driver wasn’t being responsible and therefore must pay for your losses (or damages) because of their carelessness. However, if the driver was intentionally negligent — if, for example, you were injured because a person purposefully ran you over — that would usually be handled in criminal court, separate from the personal injury side of things. Similarly, if the person who injured your pet acted intentionally — if they injured your pet as part of a prank, for example — you may be able to pursue criminal charges.
Cases of intentional pet injuries or death can also include punitive damages intended to punish the defendant for an especially reckless or cruel act. Animal cruelty is a criminal offense and may apply to pet injury cases in certain scenarios.
If your pet has been injured and required veterinary treatment through negligent acts of another person, you can still file a lawsuit against the guilty party, but only for damages to you, the owner. Your damages are typically in the form of veterinary bills, and in negligence cases, you probably won’t be able to earn money for distress and suffering.
To prove negligence in a pet injury case, you must be able to show the person was responsible for exercising care, failed to do so, and caused direct and economic harm to your pet. Caretakers often include groomers, pet sitters or walkers, or even yard workers. If they injure a pet by performing their job negligently, the owner may be able to sue them for any medical bills that incur.
Recovering Losses from Treating Your Pet’s Injury
Most pet injury or death cases revolve around the treatment of the animal and the cost of veterinary bills. In extreme cases of gross mistreatment of the animal, pet owners may be able to seek compensation for mental distress, but this is often difficult to prove. Seeing a therapist or providing other economic reasons for compensation may help strengthen these cases.
Compensation for Veterinary Bills
Courts first consider the cost of treating a pet in deciding how much to award the owner in damages. Unfortunately, pets are legally considered property and therefore are treated by the law in ways that may seem cold and heartless to animal lovers. For example, courts will also look at the market value of the pet to determine how much the pet is worth in relation to the amount of money spent on treatment.
The result of looking at pets like property isn’t always very nice. If, for example, a 10-year-old $100 dog is injured after being harassed by kids who kicked it, the courts may find that a $5,000 veterinary bill isn’t justified by the actual value of the dog. In some cases, plaintiffs can present compelling cases to the court of the pet’s significant non-economic value, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
Fines as Punishment
When the defendants in a pet injury case act cruelly toward pets or harm them intentionally, courts may recognize the case as animal cruelty and impose punitive damages on them. The pet owner will not receive this money, but it can affect whether the attackers are found guilty of animal cruelty, which is a crime in the state of Indiana.
Talk to an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
Losing a pet or seeing it suffer is like losing a loved one. Though the law doesn’t see animals in exactly the same way that pet owners do, it still protects people against others’ harmful actions toward their pets.
If your pet has been injured or killed because of someone’s intention or negligent behavior, you may be able to take your case to court. Hensley Legal Group’s personal injury attorneys may be able to help walk you through what’s necessary in a pet injury case and can refer you to animal injury lawyers if necessary. Call us or contact us online to start a free conversation about your case.