On June 6, 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court issued an opinion concerning the proper measure of damages available to the owners of an animal injured or killed through the negligence of others.
In 2012, Robert and Elizabeth Monyak boarded Lola, an 8 1/2 -year old dachshund mix, and a 13-year-old mixed-breed Labrador retriever named Callie for 10 days at the Barking Hound Village kennel. Three days after the Monyaks picked up their dogs from the kennel, Lola was diagnosed with acute renal failure. Although Lola was given extensive veterinary care, including kidney dialysis treatment, she died in March 2013.
The Monyaks sued the kennel and its manager, alleging that Lola was administered toxic doses of a medication prescribed for the much larger dog Callie. The Monyaks sought compensatory damages, including over $67,000 in veterinary and other expenses incurred in treating Lola.
In denying the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the Monyaks’ negligence claim, the trial court concluded the Monyaks would be permitted to present evidence of the actual value of Lola to them, as demonstrated by reasonable veterinary and other expenses incurred in her treatment, as well as evidence of non-economic factors demonstrating her intrinsic value. Although the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling rejecting a market value cap on damages, it held that Monyaks could not recover damages for the intrinsic value of the dog to them.
In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Hugh P. Thompson, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision to the extent it held that the proper measure of damages recoverable in tort cases involving the negligent injury to or death of an animal is one based on the actual value of the animal to its owner. The Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals erred in deciding that application of an actual value to owner standard was the appropriate measure of recoverable damages, but it also found that a cap on all damages based on application of the fair market value standard is likewise incorrect.
However, the Supreme Court affirmed the portion of the Court of Appeals’ decision holding that damages representing an animal's sentimental value to its owner are not recoverable. The Supreme Court agreed with other courts that the unique human-animal bond, while cherished, is beyond legal measure.
The Supreme Court concluded that the proper measure of damages recoverable by the Monyaks for the negligent injury and death of their dog included both her fair market value plus interest and any reasonable medical costs and other expenses they incurred in treating the dog. The Supreme Court found that descriptive evidence, both qualitative and quantitative, is admissible to establish an animal's attributes for determining its fair market value, as well as for determining the reasonableness of expenditures for veterinary expenses. Such evidence must relate to the value of the dog in a fair market, not the value of the dog solely to its owner.
The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings.
Lexis subscribers can access the opinion at: Barking Hound Vill., LLC v. Monyak, 2016 Ga. LEXIS 400 (Ga. June 6, 2016)
Lexis Advance can find the opinion at: Barking Hound Vill., LLC v. Monyak, 2016 Ga. LEXIS 400 (Ga. June 6, 2016)
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