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Donna Bader

Attorney at Law

Certified Specialist in Appellate Law

668 North Coast Hwy, Ste. 1355

Laguna Beach, CA  92651

Tel.: (949) 494-7455

Fax: (949) 494-1017

Donna@DonnaBader.com

 

 

 

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« Have you Googled your clients lately? | Main | California Supreme Court dismissed Pack v. Superior Court »
Saturday
Sep012012

The Court of Appeal recognizes the value of pets (and especially, dogs).

 

 

In one of my recently decided appeals, Plotnik v. Meihaus, the Plotniks sued their neighbors, the Meihauses, after suffering years of emotional distress.  They alleged tort claims as well as a breaches of a mutual restraining order that included an attorney's fees clause.  As noted by the appellate court, "[t]hings came to a head" when the Plotnik family dog, Romeo, a 12-15 lb., 12" miniature pinscher, inadvertently ran into the Meihaus's backyard.  Plotnik tried to retrieve his dog, but then heard backing and a squeal.  "He hurried home, arriving in time to see Romeo rolling down the slope through the open gate and hit a tree. "  (Opn., pg. 5.)  Plotnik then encountered Meihaus, who was holding a bat.  Romeo's surgery cost $2,600.  The case was tried before a jury, who returned a verdict of $154,100 against Meihaus, $12,000 against one Meihaus son and $9,500 against a second son, for a total of $175,600.  The jury also awarded Mrs. Plotnik the sum of $255,209.53.  The trial court reduced the judgment by $80,000 and then case proceeded to an appeal.

 

One of the major issues was whether the Plotniks could recover under their trespass to personal property cause of action for the "emotional distress they suffered resulting from Meihaus's injuring Romeo by striking him with a bat."  (Opn., pg. 15.)  The Court of Appeal concluded, "We hold California law allows a pet owner to recover for mental suffering caused by another's intentional act that injures or kills his or her animal."  (Opn., pg. 2.)   The court acknowledged that damages for trespass to personal property allows a plaintiff to recover actual damages.  It also noted that no case law prohibited the recovery of damages for emotional distress.  (Opn., pg. 16.)

 

Then, in a sentence that made my dog Casper swell with pride, the court acknowledged 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."  (Opn., pg. 17.)  The court also noted one can be liable for punitive damages for willfully or through gross negligence injuring an animal.  (Civ. Code sec. 3340.)  "Intentionally maiming, mutilating, torturing, or wounding an animal also constitutes a crime.  (Pen. Code, sec. 597, subd. (a).)"  (Ibid.)  Casper reminds me that although the Court of Appeal expresses its rule in general language, i.e., "pet owners" and "animals," it gave a special nod to dogs and ignored any mention of cats. 


The appellate court reduced the total damage award, affirming an award of $57,950 to David Plotnik, plus $1,000 each against each Meihaus son, and damages to Joyce Plotnik of $100,209.53.  It also affirmed the award of $93,780 in attorney fees.  You can find the opinion at: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/G045885.PDF.