CA Appeals Ct Awards Emotional Distress $ for Intentional Pet Injury

Court OKs Emotional Distress Damages for Owners Of Battered Dog

By Scott Graham The Recorder

September 4, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO — John Meihaus Jr. says he was only acting in self-defense when a neighbor’s miniature pinscher ran onto his property and began barking at him. Meihaus grabbed a baseball bat and used it to “guide” the 12-inch-tall, 15-pound dog back onto David and Joyce Plotnik’s property.

The Plotniks sued Meihaus not only for their subsequent $2,600 in veterinary bills, but for the mental anguish they suffered over the injury to their beloved Romeo.

Late last week, the California Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld $50,000 in emotional distress damages for the couple, becoming the first California appellate court to recognize emotional distress damages for injury to a pet.  

[PD note: This is an unusual case where there was a type of restraining order already in place and the incident was not deemed to be negligent, but intentional.  We think that ARs will try and run with this case and apply it to every case where an animal is allegedly harmed—and don’t say we didn’t warn everyone!]

“We believe good cause exists to allow the recovery of damages for emotional distress under the circumstances of this case,” Justice William Rylaarsdam wrote in Plotnik v. Meihaus, noting that courts in Washington, Florida and Louisiana have ruled similarly.

Whether pets are worth more than their “market value” has been at issue in rulings from Texas to Colorado in just the last year. Those cases involved mere negligence, though, whereas the case decided Monday alleged intentional injury.

The Plotniks and Meihaus had been in a long-running dispute over a fence that divided their property. A previous suit had been settled with the parties agreeing not to harass, vex or annoy each other. Still, the Plotniks alleged, Meihaus would make obscene gestures when they passed him on the street, and he had warned Joyce Plotnik not to let Romeo urinate on other people’s lawns.

On April 9, 2009, David Plotnik heard loud banging on the fence. He opened a gate to see what was going on and Romeo ran onto Meihaus’ property. He heard the dog bark and squeal, then saw it roll back through the gate and hit a tree. “Why did you hit our dog?” Plotnik testified he yelled at Meihaus. “You need to be more courteous and get your dogs to stop barking,” he said Meihaus told him.

The Plotkins sued Meihaus for violating their settlement agreement and for negligent and emotional distress on a variety of grounds. The jury awarded the couple $431,000 plus $94,000 in attorneys fees against Meihaus and two of his adult children.

On appeal the Fourth District threw out parts of the award, calling them duplicative or unsupported by the evidence. But the court upheld the damages related to Romeo — and the attorneys fees — under the theory that Meihaus had trespassed on the Plotniks’ personal property.

Rylaarsdam said California cases have disallowed emotional distress damages for injuries to animals caused by negligence, such as a veterinarian’s error. But, the justice noted, intentionally hurting an animal is different.

It can be a crime and doing it willfully or through gross negligence can lead to punitive damages. He also cited the 1889 ruling Johnson v. McConnell, 80 Cal 545, in which the California Supreme Court said of dogs, “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.”  [PD note: Remember this case, which is used by ARs, when and if the ARs take, seize or injure your animals]

Donna Bader of Laguna Beach argued the case for the Plotniks. Jim Mahacek of Costa Mesa’s Law Offices of Steven R. Young argued for Meihaus.

But see for example, below….courts awarding such damages are in distinct minority and as property, pets generally do not command emotional distress damages…..


Seeing Animal die not the same as seeing Relative killed

In what is likely a precedent setting case, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that the horror of watching an animal die is not the same as seeing a close relative killed.

In 2007 a Morris Plains woman witnessed her neighbor’s dog kill her 9-year-old Maltese-poodle mix.

Joyce McDougall sued and a lower court awarded her $5,000 in damages for the value of the dog, but denied her claim of emotional distress.

Under New Jersey law, people can sue for damages for emotional distress if they see someone close to them die, the court said. The right had been limited to close family members, and was recently expanded by courts to people with a “marital-like bond,” the New York Times reported.

McDougall had hoped to show that pet owners should be awarded damages for emotional distress, too.

But the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled last week that people’s relationships with pets do not reach the same level as human relationships.

“The bond shared between humans and animals is often an emotional and enduring one. Permitting it to support a recovery for emotional distress, however, would require either that we vastly expand the classes of human relationships that would qualify for Portee damages or that we elevate relationships with animals above those we share with other human beings,” the court ruled, referring to a case, Portee v. Jaffee, that set out the rules. “We conclude that neither response to the question presented would be sound.”

McDougall’s lawyer said that the decision reflected a distrust of juries’ ability to dispense fair awards.

Some legal experts suggested state legislatures could seek legislative remedies to those who witness a beloved pet’s violent death by establishing limits on emotional duress awards.

Without question, pets are playing an increasingly important role in people’s lives. Witness the fact the Pennsylvania Bar Institute’s offers animal law as part of its continuing educational programs in three locations across the state this summer as it has for nine years.

We clone our pets. We fight over them in divorce cases. We name them in our wills.We spend $50 billion on them when they are alive and stuff them when they die.


[PD note: That is because many animal related laws are done by HSUS and ARs to (as we have repeatedly stated over and over) — GIVE animals alleged “rights” so as to take animals OUT of the legal category OF “property”…this is in keeping with the 12 Steps of Animal Rights, that no animal should be bought, sold, or used for any purpose, and for the goal of ending the “pet trade” or buying and selling or using of animals for any purpose, including entertainment, food, med testing or otherwise. If you do not know what the 12 Steps of Animal Rights is, see sidebar topics or search box]   Also NOTICE that seeing an animal DIE (not just injured)  did not gain an award for emotional distress damages.  This is normal tort law.

But the bottom line in the court’s ruling: pets are property.


7 thoughts on “CA Appeals Ct Awards Emotional Distress $ for Intentional Pet Injury

  1. As the plaintiffs’ trial attorney in this case, please be advised that the family values their privacy and will not be commenting at this time. My own personal thoughts revolve around the fact that the relationship between a family and their dog can be very special and very unique. Most of us will acknowledge that there is no other domestic animal to which a person can become so attached. Harm or death to the family dog, especially at the hands of another person, will understandably be keenly felt. Under the appropriate facts and circumstances, someone intentionally setting out to cause such harm can now be held fully accountable for the injuries and damages to both the dog and its owners. I’m very comfortable with this decision and am glad for the family.

  2. While there can be attachment to any living or even dead person, animal or inanimate object, the issue is not likely the question. Animal activists and animal rights will take this ruling and twist it into FAR FAR more than the ruling was ever intended. Mark our words, we have studied this type of law for too long to realize otherwise. After all if PETA can kill 98.5% of all animals it takes in, but then go for constitutional rights for whales [which failed obviously]– there is NO LIMIT to what the animal rights people will do. That the case came out of the Bay Area is no surprise. AR activists want no animals shown, bought, sold, bred, used for any purpose (food, clothing, etc) and they will stop at nothing to make sure their 12 Steps of Animals Rights takes hold. This fight has been going on for decades. The fight is NOT about what animals mean to people, but what rights are given to animals where animals (for example) have habitability laws that exceed those of humans? This is not animal welfare. Animal rights is a completely different ballgame and finding that intentional harm to an animal warrants emotional distress is a very dangerous concept which has been faulted routinely over time. Wait and see what happens. We know how this works. People can’t get ED damages under many circumstances. What is to stop ED damages when applied to animals in general? That is the real question.

  3. I have been targeted by the Ar for decades, because they have been able to generate millions creating outrageous false stories about me and thus far I have not fought back for damages.

    The emotional distress when your pets are stolen under color of law is immeasurable. The terror of the wielded abuse of infinite state power takes a physical toll too. Generally, we suffer our physical injuries along with the suffocating emotional pain, and no one ever really knows what it causes.

    When my cats were stolen by a malicious forfeiture court action, I was wearing a heart monitor. I went into super ventricular fibrillation and almost died, although outwardly all I exhibited was a crushing fatigue. My heart rate soared to 208. The Dr.s told me that most people do not survive what I went through, and that I was very, very lucky. They told me that my heart was beating so fast that blood could not enter and therefore no blood was circulating. They told me that I might die “in an instant” if it happens again and is not properly treated.

    Rarely (if ever) does a court force such a traumatic court action when someone is wearing a heart monitor. What happened to me is not an oddity. Those of us who truely love our animals all feel the same agonizing trauma, but it is generally not documented by scientific monotoring. The only oddity is that mine was scientifically documented.

  4. I actually have a problem with AC at this moment, yesterday they came into my home when I was not there and seized my pit bull. My mother had her friend and two teen sons staying with her do to necessity. Her friends youngest son got home from school and the dog was in the big yard as we have an area where we keep the dog at night and during high street traffic, in consideration to the public at large.

    A neighbor who seems to have it out for us did us the favor of calling AC out, and they felt the need to impound my dog without even getting identification form this teen boy claiming to living on the property. I live in a high crime area so this kid could of been a thug wanting to rob my home and AC took the only thing that was preventing him from coming into my property. The boy at no time was in danger if he simply waited outside until my mother arrived to put the dog away.

    My question is was the situation described above exigent circumstance to allow for a warrantless entry and seizure of my personal property(dog)? Im looking for some case law before I make a big stink about this.

  5. One of two dogs illegally executed belonged to a blind young man working on his independence in Butte County, of Calif. Still, the DA ordered that my loved-one’s “service dog” and my friend’s dog be destroyed without regard to the rights of Due Process for Civil Appeals. All respondents (pet owners/keepers) were denied their rights throughout these proceedings. i.e. a Civil Appeal is documented as being filed on time, and the court replied, seek the advice of an attorney.” Furthermore, the day before the 2 dogs were killed, a Calif. criminal court Judge heard how this civil court Judge quashed a subpoena for evidence in this matter, slanting the case unfairly, and he ordered a temporary stay of execution for both dogs, so a writ could be filed, promptly. However, the DA who ordered the execution was present and openly disagreed with the Judge having that sort of jurisdiction. Hence, due process for a civil appeal and the Judge’s order was also trodden upon and both dogs were executed the next day… Yet, the criminal case wears on; despite the willful and illegal actions of the Prosecution to destroy and corrupt evidence.

  6. you would have to send name,email and number so we can verify it if u want us to
    look at case. we have to monitor all posts before posting is allowed

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