May a pet owner recover for emotional distress when another intentionally injures his pet? It depends. While in other states pet owners may recover for emotional distress, up until last month California courts only allowed juries to award economic damages to a pet owner and refused to award an owner for his emotional distress including pain and suffering related to his pet's physical injuries. But recently, the Court determined that an owner can recover under a theory of trespass.
Under the law of trespass, dogs are considered personal property and trespass to personal property allows recovery for intentional interference of personal property causing injury including emotional distress. In the recent case the jury awarded the dog owners about $2800 for the amount of the veterinarian bills and an additional $50,000 for emotional distress to the dog owners. This decision stated: “the affection of a master for his dog is a very real thing and . . . the malicious destruction of the pet provides an element of damage for which the owner should recover, irrespective of the value of the animal.”