Arizona court denies emotional distress appeal
PHOENIX — The question of whether the loss of a pet entitles an owner to compensation for emotional damages surfaced again in the Arizona Court of Appeals.
This newest case centers on a 2005 conflict between a bird owner and a veterinarian in Scottsdale. The pet owner, David Kaufman, purchased a scarlet macaw named Salty in 1996. The bird was diagnosed in May 2005 with a cloacal prolapse, where an internal sac used primarily for bodily waste storage is forced outside the body, according to court records. Scottsdale veterinarian Dr. William Langhofer consulted with Kaufman several times, eventually performing two operations that corrected the cloacal prolapse but reportedly left the bird with another problem, uterine prolapse. The bird died, and Kaufman sued for medical negligence, destruction of personal property and special damages for emotional pain and suffering and the loss of companionship.
The original lawsuit ended without compensatory awards, but the case was appealed with the help of the Animal Defense League of Arizona.The Arizona Veterinary Medical Association reiterated its position by saying the allowance of emotional distress damages against veterinarians would drive veterinary medical costs higher than many pet owners can afford.
In the end, case law helped support the appeal court's denial of Kaufman's claim.
"We recognize the reality of a pet owner's grief when his or her pet is negligently injured or killed. Nevertheless, we do not believe it reasonable to expand tort law to allow a pet owner to recover emotional distress or loss of companionship damages when such damages cannot be recovered for the injury to or loss of close human friends, siblings and non-nuclear family members," the court documents say.
California and Vermont courts recently made similar rulings, and none of the many new animal welfare laws proposed last year have opened the door to emotional distress damages for animals.