North Carolina court of appeals shoots down emotional damages claim
The North Carolina Court of Appeals issued a 20-page ruling Feb. 21 affirming an earlier decision by the North Carolina Industrial Commission against increasing the $350 valuation awarded to a pet owner after the death of her dog. Nancy Shera’s Jack Russell Terrier Laci was purchased in 1994 for $100 and was diagnosed with liver cancer nine years later. The dog was treated and went into remission, but became ill again in 2007. Veterinary staff attempting to place a nasoesophageal feeding tube into Laci in spring 2007 mistakenly placed it into her trachea and lungs, according to court records, and the 13-year-old dog died the next day.
Sherpa filed a claim for malpractice in 2009, seeking economic damages for Laci’s “intrinsic value,” as well as reimbursement for the dog’s veterinary care and cremation expenses.
The North Carolina Industrial Commission awarded Sherpa $2,755.72 in damages in 2010, which she appealed. Following a review, the commission increased Sherpa’s award to $3,105.72 in June 2011. That award included reimbursement for Laci’s treatment, as well as $350 for the dog’s replacement cost, according to court records.
But Sherpa argued to the North Carolina Court of Appeals that the $350 replacement award was inadequate. The court ruled that while it empathized with Sherpa’s loss, it could not “expand the law,” which designates pets as property. The court ruled that such questions should be posed at the Supreme Court level or by the Legislature. In the end, the court upheld the industrial commission’s $3,105 award.
Other state courts have considered the same legal question, and a fight for non-economic damages is currently underway in the Texas Supreme Court. A number of states also have or are considering legislation concerning non-economic damages and animals.