Recovery for Injuries to Pets

 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.”

 

San Bruno Residents' Right to Compensation for Emotional Distress

Many of the San Bruno residents evacuated on September 9th may be categorized as “survivors,” having escaped the Glenview fire without being burned.  But even though they suffer no physical injuries, the gas explosion will leave dozens with emotional injuries that will persist for a long time to come.

Generally the law does not require a wrongdoer to compensate the victim for the emotional distress it has caused a victim unless it has also caused the victim to suffer some sort of physical injury.  And certainly PG&E will argue that the general rule should apply here -- that unless a victim suffered physical injury, PG&E shouldn't be required to compensate him for any emotional injury that it may have inflicted.

But in a special situation like this one, everyone who suffered serious emotional injuries should be entitled to compensation, regardless of whether they suffered any physical injuries.   That's because PG&E knew that if its negligence led to a gas line explosion, people would fear for their lives and for those of their loved ones.   PG&E's behavior was morally wrong and the laws are designed to hold wrongdoers accountable for all the harm they cause, even if that harm is "only" emotional distress.

Seeking compensation for emotional distress (or "post traumatic stress disorder") does not mean you are weak or can't handle a stressful situation. Nor does it mean you are piling on or taking advantage of the system.   People who suffer from emotional distress suffer real losses.   Often because they can't concentrate, they lose their jobs or do poorly in school.  Their family situations may deteriorate because they begin to snap at those they love.  They suffer from anxiety – feel constantly "on edge" -- and that can lead to depression.  

Lawyers experienced in PG&E explosion cases can assist the San Bruno residents who are suffering emotionally from this haunting catastrophe.