‘Paws’itively Unprecedented: Dog-Owner’s Fight for Fair Damages

fair damages golden retriever

If a human is injured by the negligence of a medical provider, that human would have a cause of action against the provider for damages. Damages could include the cost of treatment, including future treatment if necessary. But what happens if the medical provider is a veterinarian and the injury is suffered by a pet rather than by a human?

This Court of Appeals of Virginia recently grappled with that very question. 1 The plaintiff’s beloved golden retriever suffered severe injuries while under the care of its veterinarian. The poor canine, who is not named in the court’s opinion, was taken to the vet’s office for a CT scan. However, the dog was not adequately secured on the table, and its legs were “crushed” as the table moved into the cylinder for the scan. Apparently, the injuries were serious enough that the animal’s retrieving days are over. According to its owner, treatment was going to cost nearly $120,000 per year for the remainder of the dog’s life for care that included electronic stimulation, shockwave therapy, ultrasound therapy, laser therapy, underwater treadmill rehabilitation, platelet-rich plasma therapy, and stem cell therapy.

The dog owner sued the veterinarian for negligence. Relying on a Virginia statute that classifies a dog as personal property, the vet’s office argued that the pet owner’s damages were limited to the amount Plaintiff had originally paid for her golden companion, which was only $350. The plaintiff disagreed, arguing that, as the owner of a living creature, she was obligated to provide “adequate, lasting care, including veterinary care.” Therefore, the future veterinary expenses were “reasonable and necessary costs” that should be recoverable as damages.

The Court noted that the general rule for personal property damage is to subtract the fair market value after the loss from the prior value and include reasonable expenses. However, the judge acknowledged that in certain cases this approach might not be sufficient. When property, like a beloved pet, holds unique value to the owner beyond market worth, it becomes necessary to use alternative methods for calculating damages. The judge cited precedents indicating that when a damaged property lacks ascertainable market value or when market value is an inadequate measure, different standards must be applied. In cases where the injured property has special value to the owner, such as family portraits or beloved pets, it may be reasonable to incur greater expenses for repairs or treatments than the property’s replacement cost.

The ruling emphasized that recovery for veterinary expenses exceeding the dog’s fair market value is possible if the expenses can be proven to be reasonably and necessarily incurred due to the defendant’s negligence. The jury’s task is to determine the reasonableness of the veterinary expenses, considering factors like the nature of the animal, the likelihood of successful treatment, and whether the treatments are customary and typical. The dog owner may now proceed to trial and argue to the jury that the $120,000 per year in medical expenses for her golden retriever is reasonable and necessary.

Revolution Law is a dog-friendly law firm. We hope this story ends with this golden retriever living out its days in comfort, and with someone retrieving his ball whenever it is needed!

Revolution Law Group is located in Greensboro, NC, and serves individuals and small businesses throughout the Triad and surrounding areas. To contact us please visit Revolution.law or call 336-333-7907.

The information included here is for informational purposes only, is not exhaustive of all considerations when creating documents, is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be relied upon for that purpose. We strongly recommend you consult with an attorney and do not attempt to create your own documents.

1 The case is captioned Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners, LLC v. Anderson, 78 Va. App. 40, 888
S.E.2d 783 (2023).