Laws Give Victims of Dog Attacks Little Recourse

Most dogs are considered property, and as a result pet owners are limited by what they can seek in damages following an attack.

A Newtown resident, who wants to remain anonymous, was leash-walking his dog on a residential street here in town. His small dog was suddenly and viciously attacked by a neighbor’s dog that broke through an electric fence, ran into the street and attacked the small dog, causing serious bodily injury. 

The owner of the small dog watched in horror as his beloved gentle, family pet was mauled.  The dog was not only physically scarred, but permanently traumatized by the experience.  The owner of the injured dog suffered his own significant emotional distress witnessing this vicious assault on what he considers a member of his family.

This scene, unfortunately all too common, was replayed recently in Oxford, with tragic results, when . Although the very large dogs were leashed, they broke away from the handlers and attacked Severson’s much smaller dog. The dog ultimately died from the injuries suffered in this attack.

In Connecticut, .  Although the Connecticut “dog bite” statute clearly places the liability on the owner of the attacking dog, dogs are, under current Connecticut law, considered “personal property,” like a chair, and Severson can only recover the fair market value or replacement value of his property - in this case a rescued dog with little or no market value.   

If Severson had owned a pedigreed show dog valued at $10,000, he would be entitled to recover that amount, but under this statute, his little dog is worthless. This same theory would apply to a claim for injuries suffered by your family's mixed breed pet as a result of veterinary malpractice.

Is this law discriminating against mixed-breeds? Is the loss or injury to a family's cocker spaniel worth more to than the loss or injury to a family's mixed breed?

Moving on to the next issue for Severson - should he be allowed to recover money damages for the emotional distress he suffered witnessing the horrific mauling of his pet?

In Connecticut, there is a cause of action for the emotional distress suffered by a person witnessing injury to a family member. Unfortunately, again, the statute does not allow for recovery if that family member happens to be your dog.

There are a few cases currently making their way through the Connecticut court system attempting to challenge the bystander statute claiming the owner of a pet attacked by a vicious dog feared for his own personal safety.  The outcome remains to be seen on this one.

Now look at your beautiful, loving mixed-breed happily running around your yard with your children. Just because you have no idea what breed(s) he is, because his conformation is not perfect and one ear is floppy, is he worth less to you than your neighbor’s Golden retriever  I think not. 

Sheela Na Gig August 22, 2011 at 05:51 PM
Laws are like this precisely because the AVMA lobbies hard to maintain pets' status as merely personal property because it protects veterinarians against high malpractice claims. It also allows owners of large, animal aggressive dogs to kill our pets with impunity. There have been initiatives in the past to create a special class of pet property that recognizes that pets are valued as companions, are irreplaceable, and represent a great emotional loss. And that watching a pet being torn apart and mutilated and hearing their piercing, terrified death screams is not the same as watching someone running over your golf clubs. This class of pet property should be recognized.
Ralph Crozier August 22, 2011 at 06:38 PM
The law is 1000 years old and should not be changed...where would we draw lines? My dog could roll over and fetch and is worth more than yours... courts would be overwhelmed with subjective emotional rubbush. Think of all the dogs and cats hit by cars. Think of the poor vets who would be forced to order unnecessay MRI s or CAT scans for worthless animals so as to avoid frivolous lawsuits. In many countries people eat my pets. God help us from hamster lawsuits!!!!
Adria L. Henderson August 23, 2011 at 11:34 AM
These last two comments clearly point out the opposite ends of the spectrum on this issue. This why every bill that has tried to change the “pets as property” law dies in committee. Worthless animals, Raph!
Craig Zac August 24, 2011 at 11:41 AM
...But if a dog bites a human, all H*** breaks loose. Hey, id rather get bitten than my dog get mauled any day. Ralph, I see, so when I take my pet to the vets, he can way over charge me and he knows he can cause I love my pets and will do anything needed to help them and if I ask about his charges he'll say "well, if you love your pet" or" wouldnt you want your loved ones to do this for you"? but suddenly, when Mr or Mrs vet screwes up and kills the pet or makes things worse, its like "Hey, they are only WORTHLESS ANIMALS, get over it... No one tells anyone they need to be a vet. They choose that as a profession and in doing so, would also have to choose getting sued for malpractice... esp. with what they charge. And if they are so afraid of malpratice suits, maybe they should actually learn thier jobs and not make stupid mistakes? what if it was a MD and the worthless Animal was some worthless kid??
Craig Zac August 24, 2011 at 11:46 AM
...What about the fact that the owner of Roxy was bitten by the attacking dogs? doesnt this change things? I do have a question... if a dog bites someone, they can sue the heck out of you and your dog can be put down... if some one trips over a chair in your living room, they can sue you to, but does the chair get put down? clearly the chair is dangerous. What if someone comes in my house, attacks me with a chair from my kitchen and in doing so, breaks the chair? do i sue him for attacking me? or do I sue the owner of the chair? also, does his insurance pay for my broken chair or do I have to go through mine? And do I sue my attacker or do I sue my own insurance because the attack happened in my own house? lol...


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