People are suing when family pets are injured. And the awards are increasing. Here's some insight into damages available in Illinois.

Arin Greenwood has an article in this month’s ABA Journal that is worth a read. The article discusses how juries are awarding substantial damages when pets are killed due to police misconduct. According to U.S. Department of Justice figures, 10,000 dogs are killed every year by police. And when the killing isn’t justified, lawsuits are being filed, leading to some staggering numbers. Consider:

  • Last year a Baltimore jury awarded $1.26 million to a family whose dog was killed after being shot by a Maryland police officer under questionable circumstances[amount later reduced to $207,500 pursuant to Maryland law];
  • A settlement of $885,000 in Connecticut in 2017 to a family whose dog was killed during an unlawful search;
  • A settlement of $226,5000 in 2016 for a Colorado family when their dog was killed by a police officer;
  • A $100,000 payment to a Detroit family after a police office shot a dog that was chained near a home.

Some of the recoveries described in Greenwood’s article were argued as Fourth Amendment cases involving the unconstitutional seizures of property, under 42 U.S.C Section 1983. But what about when the wrongdoer isn’t a police officer – what damages might be available to pet owners? Illinois law is not entirely clear on the damages available when pets are injured. In Leith v. Frost, an Illinois Appellate Court did discuss the damages available to pet owners after their pet Dachshund Molly was mauled by another dog. The veterinary bills for Molly were $4,784. At trial, the plaintiffs choose to put on evidence, via a breeder, that the fair market value of Molly was $200. The trial court found that that Molly was personal property and capped damages at the fair market value of $200. Plaintiffs appealed the damages award.

The Appellate Court noted that certain items, such as photos, trophies and pets have no definable market value. In determining compensatory damages to for injuries to pets, the plaintiff is obligated to demonstrate the pet’s value “…by such proof as the circumstances admit.” The Court then adopted the decision of a Kansas court and modified the damages award to include the entire cost of the veterinary services. The language in the Appellate Court decision certainly seems to suggest that larger damages awards, beyond the veterinary bills, would be permissible, if the plaintiff were to put forth appropriate evidence as to the pet’s value. Thus far, there are no reported Appellate Court decisions providing a road map as to what the evidence should include. Some potential sources of proof would be testimony as to time spent with the dog; photos or video documenting interaction with the dog; testimony from children or other family members as to their affection for the dog; and possibly testimony as to the impact that the death or injury to the dog has on family members.

Lastly The Humane Care for Animals Act, 510 ILCS 70/16.3[“the Act”] allows owners of animals to seek damages against those persons that subject animals to “aggravated cruelty” – defined as intentional acts causing companion animal[pets] to suffer serious injury or death. Damages may include, but are not limited to the value of the pet, veterinary expenses, and any other expense incurred by the owner in rectifying the emotional distress suffered by the owner. Punitive damages up to $25,000 are also permissible, and attorney fees may be recovered. At the moment, there are no reported Appellate decisions discussed the use of the Act as a civil remedy for injuries to pets.