For many Americans, pets are more than animals. They are loved companions who become part of the family, and losing one is often just as difficult as losing a human loved one. If your pet has been injured or killed due to someone’s negligence, here’s what you need to know.
Laws Vary by State and County
Pet legislation is complex because there are no widely accepted rules or regulations regarding pet injury or death. States each have their own laws and precedents, and some counties have their own ordinances. Most laws specifically discuss dog bites and animal cruelty, but few outline clear remedies available to pet owners who suffer a loss.
Generally, a pet owner can obtain financial compensation in a few different ways:
- Animal cruelty – If someone was cruel to your pet, you can file a criminal charge against the individual. As part of the sentencing, the court may require the defendant to financially compensate the pet owner.
- Civil actions – You can file a civil claim for personal injury if someone’s negligence caused your pet’s injury or death. Individuals may sue for medical expenses and pain and suffering.
- Small claims actions – Small claims courts allow anyone to file an inexpensive lawsuit in negligence cases. If an attorney does not believe that a civil action would produce adequate financial compensation, he or she may recommend filing a small claims lawsuit.
A pet owner can file criminal charges and a civil action against an individual concurrently.
Potential for Recovery After a Pet Injury or Death
Even though you see your pet as a family member, the courts may not see the relationship in the same way. Pet owners almost never secure as much compensation as the courts award in human injury cases. However, some cases may go above and beyond normal circumstances. Only a personal injury attorney who is familiar with pet laws in your jurisdiction can help you determine what legal action to take.
The court may award a pet owner punitive damages in cases where defendant behavior was excessively negligent. Historically, some courts have also taken pet uniqueness and irreplaceability into account during damages proceedings. In addition to economic damages, these courts may award non-economic damages up to several thousand dollars.
Animal Cruelty Laws in Texas
In Texas, state criminal and civil laws exist to protect domesticated animals and previously captured wild animals. Domesticated pets fall into this category, but the law may not protect a stray animal, even if you took regular care of the animal. Under criminal statutes, you must prove that someone intentionally harmed the animal. Animal cruelty includes acts of torture, unreasonable confinement, purposefully killing or poisoning, neglect, and knowingly injuring an animal that belongs to someone else.
Under state civil laws, pet owners may find a better opportunity for legal recourse. The laws protect all living creatures, wild and domestic. Cruelty under civil law includes acts of torture, overworking, food/water/shelter/care deprivation, confinement, and forced animal fighting.
Proving a Claim
Each court must interpret these laws in light of the facts of the case to make a just ruling. To prove a criminal charge or civil claim, the prosecution/plaintiff must provide evidence of intention and/or negligence. In civil claims, a pet owner must also demonstrate the level of harm a pet injury or death causes.
To develop a fair case for damages, a pet owner and his or her attorney may need to determine the market value of the animal as well as the value of the pet as a companion. A pet’s personality, training, breed, health, and veterinary costs may all play a role in the total amount of compensation a pet owner requests.
For more information about pet injury laws in San Antonio, contact the Law Firm of Aaron A. Herbert, P.C.