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What Is a Pet Worth? Georgia Supreme Court Decides

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. | Last updated on

When you go away on vacation and leave your precious pooch at a kennel, you expect to get the dog back, intact. If that doesn't happen and you decide to sue, what can you expect to recover? Georgia's highest court has just provided guidance on this issue, concluding that that dog is worth its fair market value, not the actual value paid for the pet, and that owners may also sue to recover veterinary expenses incurred.

The decision stems from a 2012 case in which one couple left both of their dogs at a kennel for ten days. During that time, the couple says, the kennel gave the wrong dog medication, causing almost-immediate acute renal failure and ultimately leading to her death nine months later. Now they'll be able to try to collect costs from the kennel, according to the Georgia high court.

Losing Lola

Robert and Elizabeth Monyak sued Barking Hound Village Kennel and its manager, claiming negligence, fraud, and deceit leading to the death of their dog, Lola. In Georgia, a pet dog has value and is considered the personal property of its owner. At issue in the case was the proper measure of value -- whether actual or fair market -- and whether a cap on damages is appropriate in such a matter.

The Chief Justice, delivering the Court's opinion, wrote:

The subject matter of this case is near and dear to the heart of many a Georgian in that it involves the untimely death of a beloved family pet and concerns the proper measure of damages available to the owners of an animal injured or killed through the negligence of others. Observing that pet dogs are considered personal property under Georgia law, but finding that not all dogs have an actual commercial or market value, the Court of Appeals held that where the actual market value of the animal is non-existent or nominal, the appropriate measure of damages would be the actual value of the dog to its owners.

Reversing in Part

The decision from the state supreme court recognizes that the dog has a value beyond what was paid for it, and that the value can be demonstrated by reasonable veterinary and other expenses, as well as other economic factors. This ruling reversed in part and affirmed in part the court of appeals' ruling below, which considered "actual value" of the dog as opposed to fair market value the appropriate measure but capped damages, excluding vet costs.

Relying on an 1887 case about a horse who was injured stepping through wood on a rotting bridge, the George Supreme Court wrote: "Where an animal is negligently injured and subsequently dies as a result of those injuries, the proper measure of damages recoverable by the animal's owner includes not only the full market value of the animal at the time of the loss plus interest, but also expenses incurred by the owner in an effort to cure the animal."

The Monyaks were relieved about the ruling and believe that they are not the only pet owners to have suffered from kennel negligence. Elizabeth Monyak told WSB-TV 2 in Atlanta, "We suspect just like we weren't told when they made a medication error, these other people may not have been told either."

Negligent Kennel?

If your pet or any other beloved family member is injured due to the negligence of another, talk to a lawyer. Tell your story. Many attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to assess your case.

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