By Jennifer Gardner
In my Los Angeles civil and real estate litigation practice, I often represent clients involved in neighbor and boundary disputes. These are very interesting, and very heated cases. Emotions run high, along with plenty of blame on both sides. In the cases I take, my clients are highly sympathetic and true victims of wrongful conduct on the part of their nasty neighbors.
I live in a very urban part of the city, and even though I am a Los Angeles civil and criminal defense lawyer and I should know better, it is sometimes impossible avoid conflicts with my own neighbors. One neighbor recently threatened to poison my dog. Another time, a neighbor’s unleashed dog attacked my dog. There are many dog incidents where I live, and I have become a very protective dog lover, especially of my own.
Dog versus dog disputes are one thing, but when a human intentionally harms your dog that is another. Now, the Court of Appeal has made good law for dog lovers by ruling that a dog owner can recover emotional distress damages pursuant to a claim for trespass to personal property when a neighbor intentionally harms his dog. In that case, in the midst of a nasty neighbor dispute that went on for quite some time, the defendant neighbor took a baseball bat and beat a 15 pound, 12 inch high mini pinscher who ran onto his property, breaking the dog’s leg and traumatizing his family.
In this case (Plotnick v. Meihaus, G045885, (8/31/2012), the Court of Appeal surveyed the law as it applies to emotional distress damages for trespass to personal property, including the family dog. The Court stated:
“In the early case of Johnson v. McConnell, supra, 80 Cal. 545, the court noted “while it has been said that [dogs] have nearly always been held „to be entitled to less regard and protection than more harmless domestic animals,‟ it is equally true that there are no other domestic animals to which the owner or his family can become more strongly attached, or the loss of which will be more keenly felt.” (Id. at p. 549.) Additionally, one can be held liable for punitive damages if he or she willfully or through gross negligence wrongfully injures an animal. (Civ. Code, § 3340.) Intentionally maiming, mutilating, torturing, or wounding an animal also constitutes a crime. (Pen. Code, § 597, subd. (a).)”
In reaching its decision that the Plaintiffs could recover damages for their emotional distress from their repugnant neighbor striking their dog with a bat, the Court of Appeal examined California law that allows emotional distress damages for trespass and negligence, as well as the law of other states:
“Furthermore, cases in other states have recognized a pet owner may recover for mental suffering caused by another’s wrongful acts resulting in the pet‟s injury or death. (Womack v. Von Rardon (2006) 133Wash.App. 254, 263 [135 P.3d 542] [cat set on fire; “malicious injury to a pet can support a claim for, and be considered a factor in measuring a person’s emotional distress damages”]; La Porte v. Associated Independents, Inc. (Fla. 1964) 163 So.2d 267, 269 [garbage collector hurled can at tethered dog, killing it; “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”]; Brown v. Crocker (La.App. 1962) 139 So.2d 779, 781-782 [affirming recovery of damages “for shock and mental anguish experienced” for “death of . . . mare” and “loss of [stillborn] colt” “as a result of shooting”]; see also Annot., Recovery of Damages for Emotional Distress Due to Treatment of Pets and Animals (2001) 91 A.L.R.5th 545.)”