Mental Anguish

In an action to recover for the killing of, or an injury to, a dog, the owner may be entitled to recover compensation for mental distress. Several states have statutes that establish the conditions for recovery and the monetary limits. The circumstances under which such compensation may be given can also be determined from the cases, such as the following:

  • Gonzales v. Personal Storage, Inc. (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 464 is not a dog case but it can be used under some circumstances to recover damages for mental anguish. A self-storage facility converted approximately $60,000 of a tenant’s personal property. The court ruled that the facility was liable for the severe emotional distress the tenant suffered when she learned about the conversion. The court’s ruling was founded upon the law of conversion of personal property. “[W]e conclude that notwithstanding further developments in the law of negligence, damages for emotional distress growing out of a defendant’s conversion of personal property are recoverable.” (56 Cal.App.4th at p. 477.) If the defendant unlawfully had control of the dog, then menal anguish damages are recoverable.
  • In Knowles Animal Hospital, Inc. v. Wills, 360 So. 2d 37 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 3d Dist. 1978), cert. denied, 368 So. 2d 1369 (Fla. 1979), a dog suffered severe burns after being placed on a heating pad at an animal hospital and left there for a day and a half. The court affirmed a judgment against the animal hospital that included a $1,000 award for the dog owner’s mental suffering. 
  • In Johnson v. Wander, 592 So. 2d 1225 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 3d Dist. 1992), a dog once again was left on heating pads for a long period of time and suffered severe burns. The court affirmed that the owner could recover compensation for mental suffering at finding out about her dog’s injury, and punitive damages. 
  • In City of Garland v. White, 368 S.W.2d 12 (Tex. Civ. App. Eastland 1963), writ refused n.r.e., (Oct. 2, 1963), police shot the plaintiff’s dog, a pedigreed, registered, three-year-old male boxer. This incident caused the owner to become nervous and frustrated; he felt  worry, vexation, disappointment, anger, and resentment. His teaching suffered and he missed time from school. The court held that he could recover compensation for mental pain and suffering. 
  • In Brousseau v. Rosenthal 443 N.Y.S.2d 285 (N.Y.City Civ.Ct., 1980) a kennel caused the death of a dog, for a reason that was not reported in the court decision. Suffice it to say, however, that a dog should never die in a kennel. The court acknowledged the companionship and protection that the plaintiff lost with the death of her companion of eight years.
  • A dog died because it was left in a hot van so, in Campbell v. Animal Quarantine Station 632 P.2d 1066 (Hawaii, 1981), the court was faced with whether the dog owner had to witness the death, and whether Hawaii would recognize the element of mental distress when determining the amount of compensation. The court said that the owner did not have to witness the death, and the mental distress was recoverable.
  • A dead cat was discovered in the casket of the owners’ dog during the dog’s funeral. The court ruled that mental distress damages were recoverable. Corso v. Crawford Dog and Cat Hospital, Inc. 415 N.Y.S.2d (182 N.Y.City Civ.Ct., 1979).
  • The shooting of his dog probably would entitle a dog owner to mental distress damages in Idaho, under Gill v. Brown 695 P.2d 1276 (Idaho App., 1985) [the animal in that case was a donkey but the principle is the same], and also in Wisconsin, under Rabideau v. City of Racine 627 N.W.2d 795 (Wis. 2001) [as long as the shooter was not a law enforcement officer properly performing his duties, as it was in this case].
  • Dumping dead dogs into a ditch and pretending not to know what happened to them, after lawfully killing the dogs, can result in mental distress damages. Katsaris v. Cook 225 Cal.Rptr. 531 (Cal.App. 1 Dist., 1986).
  • When police officers shoot dogs that are roaming the streets and are aggressive, it is possible to recover damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress if the officers should have been able to control the dogs another way. Kautzman v. McDonald 621 N.W.2d 871 (N.D. 2001).
  • A tethered dog died because a garbage disposal employee maliciously threw a garbage can at it, and the court held that mental distress damages were awardable. LaPorte v. Associated Independents, Inc. 163 So.2d 267 (Fla. 1964).
  • When a city pound fails to follow its (and the local law’s) procedures for euthanizing a stray dog, and it turns out that the dog was not stray but belonged to a owner that cared for it, the city may be held liable for emotional distress damages. Richardson v. Fairbanks North Star Borough 705 P.2d 454 (Alaska, 1985).
  • In Tennessee, by statute (Tenn. Stats, 44-17-403), any negligence leading to the death of a dog on the dog owner’s property, or on the property of the caretaker of the dog, or while the dog is in the custody of the caretaker, may result in an award of additional damages up to $4,000 for “reasonably expected society, companionship, love and affection of the pet.”

Keep in mind, however, that mental distress damages for the injury to or death of a dog are not awardable in most states, and are not possible under a variety of circumstances. Here are some examples:

  • Altieri v. Nanavati 573 A.2d 359 (Conn. Super., 1990) involved unwanted sterilization surgery on the plaintiff’s dog. The court held that this was malpractice on the part of the veterinarian but that mental distress damages would not be awarded at trial.
  • A dog died after being subjected to extreme heat at a groomer’s, but the court held that mental distress damages are not recoverable in New Jersey. Harabes v. Barkery, Inc. 791 A.2d 1142 (N.J.Super.L., 2001).
  • The intentional killing of a dog that terrorized the neighborhood, inflicted by a Deputy Sheriff, would not support a claim of any kind. Ivey v. Hamlin (Unpublished) 2002 WL 1254444 (Tenn.Ct.App.)(Not reproted in S.W.3rd). Unpublished court opinions are instructive but not legally binding.
  • Adopting-out a dog that was licensed but not wearing its tags would not lead to recovery for anything. Lamare v. North Country Animal League 743 A.2d 598 (Vt. 1999).
  • Burying a dog in a mass grave, against the express wishes of its owner, would not result in a claim for emotional distress. Langford v. Emergency Pet Clinic 644 N.E.2d 1035 Ohio App. 8 Dist., 1994).
  • A veterinarian beat a dog to death because he was having difficulty getting it from one part of the clinic to another, and yet the Pennsylvania court held that emotional distress damages could not be recovered. Miller v. Peraino 626 A.2d 637 (Pa.Super., 1993).
  • When a kennel owner’s dog tore off the front leg and shoulder blade of a boarder’s dog, no damages were allowed for loss of the intrinsic value of the victim-dog. Nichols v. Sukaro Kennels 555 N.W.2d 689 (Iowa, 1996).
  • Seeing her dog dismembered by an attacking dog did not entitle a dog owner to emotional distress in Arizona because dogs are simply property. Roman v. Carroll 621 P.2d 307 (Ariz.App., 1980). The same rule, in a very similar case (involving two attacking dogs), is followed in Rhode Island because a dog is not a “relative” and therefore the emotional distress will not be compensated. Rowbotham v. Maher 658 A.2d 912 (R.I. 1995). Minnesota follows the same rule, that dogs are property and therefore their owners cannot recover for emotional distress. Soucek v. Banham 524 N.W.2d 478 (Minn. App. 1994). The property rule is also used in Ohio to deny mental suffering damages. Strawser v. Wright 610 N.E.2d 610 (Ohio App. 12 Dist., 1992). It also is used for that purpose in Nebraska. Fackler v. Genetzky 595 N.W.2d 884 (Neb., 1999).
  • Mental distress damages are not recoverable in Texas for the death of a dog because its value is limited to market value, if any, or some special or pecuniary value to the owner that may be ascertained by reference to the dog’s usefulness or services. Zeid v. Pearce 953 S.W.2d 368 (Tex.App.-El Paso, 1997).
  • Dogs are considered to be property as a result of statutes in the following states, and therefore it is probable that mental distress damages would not be awarded: Delaware 7 (Del.C. sec. 1708), Indiana (Ind. Stats. 15-5-10-1), New Mexico (NM Stats. 77-1-1), Nevada (Nev. Stats. 193.021), Oklahoma (21 Oak. Stats. Ann. 1717), Oregon (Or. Rev. Stats. 609.020),
  • The market value of a dog is all that can be awarded pursuant to a specific statute in Maryland (Md. Courts & Jud. Proc. 11-110).

How mental anguish is proved

In Campbell v. Animal Quarantine Station, Division of Animal Industry, Dept. of Agriculture, State of Hawaii, Bd. of Agriculture, 63 Haw. 557, 632 P.2d 1066 (1981), the court, stating that a dog owner may recover for emotional distress caused by an injury to or the death of the owner’s dog, declared that the introduction of medical testimony is not a prerequisite for the recovery of such damages. Medical testimony, the court said, should be used as an indicator of the degree of the mental distress suffered by the dog’s owner, not as a bar to recovery. Medical proof can be offered to assist in proving the “seriousness” of the claim and the extent of recovery, the court explained, but it should not be a requirement for the cause of action. Once the trial court or the jury is satisfied that the distress is “serious,” the court continued, the duration and symptoms of the distress affect the amount of recovery. 

To prove this and other aspects of a claim involving injury or death of a dog, get a copy of When a Dog Is Injured Or Killed.