Dog Beaten With Bat by Neighbor; Owner Recovers Emotional Distress Damages
emotional distress damages avaialble to pet owners
Striking your neighbors dog with a bat may allow your neighbor to recover emotional distress damages according to a 2012 California court ruling. In this case, the emotional distress damages totaled $127,000.
In Plotnik v. Meihaus (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 1590, the plaintiff sued his neighbor alleging that the neighbor had engaged in a pattern of harassing behavior that culminated in intentional injury to the plaintiff’s dog. As part of a pattern of harassing behavior, the neighbor struck the plaintiff’s dog with a bat after the dog came into his yard and then threatened the plaintiff with the bat.
The case proceeded to trial by jury and the jury awarded the plaintiff damages for trespass to personal property, the trespass being the striking of the dog, and the dog being the personal property. In addition, the jury awarded damages against the neighbor for both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The court of appeal in Plotnik affirmed the award of damages for the injuries to the plaintiff’s dog. The court observed that pets are generally regarded as personal property, and that the claim for economic damages related to the dog’s injuries therefore was compensable under the theory of trespass to personal property. The court then determined that damages for emotional harm relating to the dog’s injuries should also be allowed under the trespass theory of liability. However, the court refused to allow those same damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress, finding such an award to unduly expand the concept of duty and to be duplicative of the award of emotional distress under the trespass theory.
Finally, the court found that the neighbor’s conduct in injuring the dog could rise to the level of outrageous conduct that would support an award of damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Nevertheless, because emotional distress damages had already been awarded under the trespass theory, the court determined that the additional award of emotional distress damages under this theory was duplicative.
The lesson to be learned from the holding in Plotnik is that emotional distress damages are available to a pet owner when a pet is injured by the intentional actions of another.
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