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Typically, damages for loss of personal property are limited to the difference between the property's fair market value before and immediately after the loss. Due to this standard, damages will seldom be awarded for the loss of a family pet, since pets have little or no market value.
Sean and Melissa Oberschlake, owners of the dog “Poopi,” took the dog to defendant Veterinary Associates Animal Hospital to have its teeth cleaned. While the dog was under anesthesia, the veterinarian, defendant Christian Hurst, DVM, also tried to spay the dog, even though the dog had previously been spayed as a puppy. This left the dog with a closed incision on its abdomen. Subsequently, the owners filed an action on behalf of their dog alleging veterinary malpractice, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and loss of companionship. Defendants moved to dismiss the emotional distress and loss of companionship claims. The Court of Common Pleas (Ohio) granted the motion to dismiss and entered judgment against defendants on the malpractice claim. On appeal, the owners conceded that dogs were currently classified as personal property under Ohio law and that the law did not recognize non-economic damages for personal property. Nonetheless, the owners contended that the appellate court should "do the right thing" by distinguishing between inanimate property like chairs and tables, and animate property like dogs, cats, birds, and other animals which could serve as companions.
Could the dog owners recover damages for the emotional distress or the pain and suffering caused by the defendant’s alleged veterinary malpractice?
The appellate court found that Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 955.03 specifically stated that dogs were personal property. There was nothing to distinguish the case from any other situation where a family pet was injured by the negligent action of a veterinarian. The appellate court held that the damages were properly limited to costs connected to the improper surgery, and did not include emotional distress or the pain and suffering of either the dog or the owners.