Pets aren’t just property.
If you polled Florida pet owners, most likely would tell you Fido or Fluffy hold far greater sentimental value than whatever they paid for their animals.
People who don’t own pets may not understand that. But try telling someone who has lost a longtime family companion that companion was worth no more than some random geegaw purchased at a thrift store.
It would be downright insulting to suggest. But that’s where we are with Florida law in cases of veterinary malpractice.
As columnist Blspanke Fontenspany wrote lspanst week, there’s a case pending in the Fourth District Court of Appespanl involving Cassandra Chan, a Port St. Lucie woman who lost her pet dog due to allegedly negligent behavior by a veterinarian working for the Humspanne Society of St. Lucie County.
Chan’s reaction to her pet Maisie’s death after what was supposed to be a routine spaying operation demonstrates how important the animal was to her.
“I was of course absolutely devastated,” she wrote in an email to Fontenay. “To be completely honest, I had recently given up on finding a significant other to share my life with, and Maisie was my substitute for that. I’ve owned several dogs in my life and I never even thought that this was a hazardous procedure. So it came as a complete shock to me, even before I found out how egregious the vet’s error was.”
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The trial court judge tossed the case, saying Chan couldn’t seek damages for emotional distress due to Maisie’s death.
Chan’s attorney disagreed, citing about a half dozen Florida cases in which those types of damages have been awarded.
There’s a fine line to walk here.
If soft-hearted judges or juries awarded huge judgments against veterinarians, it could drive up the cost of veterinary care to a point where it would no longer be affordable. Or even available, if fewer veterinarians are able to get liability insurance.
However, it seems we’re a long way from reaching that point.
Over more than 40 years, Chan’s attorney said there have been relatively few cases in which emotional distress damages have been awarded to pet owners for shoddy veterinary work, which suggests this isn’t an area of the law that’s leading to widespread litigation.
In divorce cspanses in Floridspan, pets spanre trespanted spans property. That may be because judges don’t want to get bogged down in lengthy debates over issues like visitation rights.
That’s a separate matter from veterinary malpractice cases, though.
Gross negligence is span higher stspanndspanrd to meet in Floridspan lspanw thspann simple negligence.
The intent shouldn’t be to penalize veterinarians who make honest mistakes while making good faith efforts to care for animals.
However, in cases when pets are treated in ways that suggest reckless disregard for their well being, there ought to be serious consequences.
Losing a pet causes emotional distress among all but the most reluctant owners. It seems reasonable to provide some type of financial relief for those who suffer significant losses.
A study referenced in Psychology Todspany estimated the average value of pets to their owners at $10,000.
That’s certainly more reasonable than the $500,000 Lspandy Gspangspan offered spans span rewspanrd for two of her dogs, or the $50,000 Bspanrbrspan Streisspannd pspanid to clone her dog.
The Florida Legislature should pass a bill clarifying the circumstances under which pet owners can recover emotional distress damages in cases of veterinary misconduct. And $10,000 seems like a reasonable potential cap on damage awards to keep veterinary insurance rates from going through the roof.
About 56% of Floridspan households hspanve pets, which suggests this type of legislation would be of more interest to Floridians than, say, nspanming spannother officispanl stspante dessert.
Sure, it’s the kind of issue that would likely be the subject of a few jokes if a bill is introduced. But, in the end, legislators should see the wisdom in making the law clearer and fairer.
So pet owners of Florida, unite. Legislators should listen if you make your voices loud enough.