Fourth District, Division 3 Also Holds that a Pet Owner May Recover For Mental Suffering Cause By a Trespass Injuring or Killing Owner's Animal.
Co-contributors Marc and Mike like this one, because they both have dogs—Marc has Watson and Mike has Riffle.
The Fourth District, Division 3 in Plotnik v. Meihaus, Case Nos. G045885/G046260 (4th Dist., Div. 3 Aug. 31, 2012) (published) decided that a pet owner could be awarded emotional distress damages for a trespass which resulted in injury or death to the owner's animal, in this case a dog named Romeo. Two neighbors apparently had been fighting for years, producing a prior settlement agreement with "good neighbor" covenants and a fees clause should one side breach the compromise. Well, that did occur some years later, with Romeo being struck by a bat by one of the neighbors and incurring a leg injury producing some steep vet bills. The jury found against the offending neighbors on multiple contractual and tort bases. Also, the trial court awarded $93,780 to the prevailing neighbors under the settlement agreement fees clause.
For the most part (with some reductions by both the trial and appellate courts), the damages awards held up. As far as the fee order is concerned, the winners did demonstrate a breach of the settlement agreement with the fees clause and only an undeveloped argument was made by losing litigants as to the reasonableness of the award amount, which meant one thing—fee award affirmed.
Here is our favorite quote by the appellate court, in the 3-0 Plotnik decision authored by Acting Presiding Justice Rylaarsdam, from an older California Supreme Court case: "while it has been said that [dogs] have nearly always been held 'to be entitled to less regard and protection than more harmless domestic animals,' it is equally true 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." (Johnson v. McConnell, 80 Cal. 545, 549 (1889).) Amen to that.
Above Left: Watson; Right: Riffle