No economic recovery for pet loss


A Calif. high court has upheld a decision several states have already made.

Santa Ana, Calif.

-- A California attorney’s appeal seeking damages for emotional distress or loss of companionship resulting from the death of her dog while in a veterinarian’s care has been denied.

California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of an Orange County superior court, which on July 31 had denied San Francisco attorney Gail McMahon’s request.

McMahon had taken her 5-year-old purebred Maltese show dog, Tootsie, the last of a champion bloodline, to Dr. Diane Craig’s Irvine veterinary hospital in December 2004 for breathing problems as a result of previously diagnosed laryngeal paralysis, according to court records. Craig performed surgery, and McMahon claims that an order Craig gave to feed Tootsie too soon after the surgery caused her to aspirate the food into her lungs. A necropsy showed the dog likely died from aspiration pneumonia despite Craig’s claims that the pet was given only water after surgery, according to the lawsuit.

McMahon’s lawsuit alleged veterinary malpractice, negligent failure to inform, intentional misrepresentation, constructive fraud, conversion and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The superior court declined to grant McMahon damages for emotional and companionship loss, a ruling the appellate court upheld.

“We recognize the love and loyalty a dog provides creates a strong emotional bond between an owner and his or her dog,” the appellate court wrote. “But, given California law does not allow parents to recover for the loss of companionship of their children, we are constrained not to allow a pet owner to recover for loss of the companionship of a pet.”

A federal court in Vermont recently issued a similar ruling, and legislators in several states currently are weighing laws regarding emotional damages for the loss of a pet.

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