BY KIBRET MARKOS
A dog owner whose dog was mauled to death in front of her by another dog cannot claim damages for emotional distress, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
The decision affirms a long-standing law that treats dogs as property, and determined that while a dog owner may claim damages for the replacement of the dog, he or she cannot seek additional damages for the trauma of watching the dog get killed as if the dog were a relative with close familial ties.
The ruling comes in the case of Joyce McDougall, who was walking her Maltese-poodle mix, Angel, on a street in Morris Plains in June 2007 when a larger dog came growling and snarling from the home of Charlot Lamm, grabbed Angel by the neck and shook her violently until she died.
McDougall, who acquired Angel 10 years earlier and had grown deeply attached to the dog, sued Lamm for damages. A trial judge awarded McDougall $5,000 for the replacement of the dog, but ruled that she is not entitled to damages for emotional distress.
State law allows loved ones to seek damages for emotional distress if they witnessed the traumatic death of a family member. In appealing the trial judge’s ruling, McDougall argued that the same principle applies to her case because she had established a loving relationship with her dog.
The justices, however, were 5-0 in disagreeing with her.
“Although we recognize that many people form close bonds with their pets, we conclude that those bonds do not rise to the level of a close familial relationship or intimate, marital-like bond,” they wrote in a 39-page decision.
To read the full decision click here or paste this link into your browser http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/supreme/A9910McDougallvLamm.pdf
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