Animal injury claims can be tricky to navigate. If you’ve lost a pet due to negligence, can you sue for emotional damage?
Find out what your options are and what you can expect in terms of compensation for a case involving an injured or lost pet under Ontario law.
A great number of Canadians are owners of beloved house pets, and they are often treated just like another member of the family. A 2020 a nation-wide pet survey revealed that about 58% of Canadian households own at least one dog or cat. This survey also showed the Canadian dog population increasing to reach 7.7 million in the same year. With this many household pets in our homes today, it’s no wonder that animal injury claims arise, which often cause emotional damage to their owners. If ever faced with a negligence case arising in pet injury or loss, it’s important to understand how the law views such cases.
Owning a pet is so common, perhaps due to the extremely close and indescribable bond we form with our pets. We often rely on them for emotional support and companionship – even if we do not consciously realize it. Especially during the trying times of the pandemic, people reported the presence of pets as positively benefiting mental health and quality of life.
An injured or lost pet is an extremely heartbreaking event. This can be even more traumatic if it has been caused by someone else’s negligence. It’s no wonder that the loss of these companions could have you wondering about the emotional compensation you could claim from an animal injury claim. This is valid question to have, and let’s explore it further.
Ontario Law Views Pets as Property
Although many consider their pets as family members, they are not viewed as such by the law. This may sound harsh, but under the Canadian legal system, animals are classified as property. To give a legal example, a court typically does not order custody or access rights to a pet, but we are familiar with this as applied to a separating coupling fighting for custody of their (human) children. Just like a child, an animal is a living thing that cannot physically be split into two. The two are not viewed the same in the eyes of the law and this is important to consider when filing animal injury claims.
Under law, a pet is treated no differently than any other property such as the dining room table or a piece of jewelry. Speaking in commercial terms, a pet can be bought, sold, and replaced just like other products we consume. However, when you have a bond with a pet that is suddenly lost due to negligence, replacing that pet is not an easy task. Unfortunately, this doesn’t change the fact that the law sees animals as property. This is the main precedent and there is no way getting around it.
This is not to say that pets are not protected by legislation – they definitely are. Canada’s Criminal Code contains federal law related to animal cruelty which instills regulations to protect animals from abuse and neglect. But things get a bit trickier when we wish to take legal action based on certain cases of negligence.
What You Can Expect when Claiming the Loss or Injury of a Pet
As a pet owner, why wouldn’t you fight for your beloved pet’s rights? One way to do so is by filing animal injury claims. Although this seems like the right path to take, pursuing legal action may be less worthwhile than you think. The issue is of extreme importance to you on a personal and emotional level, but it is unlikely the courts will see it from this perspective.
We know that the law treats pets as property. This means that anyone who deliberately or carelessly hurts your dog or cat will generally be responsible just as if that person damaged your car or other property. The same goes for the owner of the pet if their dog or cat causes injury to someone else – such as a dog bite. Here, the owner is responsible for their pet, or property, causing damage.
In Ontario, there have been very few animal injury cases where emotional damage was awarded for the loss of an animal. In most cases, courts are reluctant to offer anything other than the value of the animal itself. You can see how this is a tricky landscape to navigate, because the court will often not consider emotional damage as a factor when dealing with damage or loss of property (your pet).
Can you sue for emotional damage in an animal injury case and be successful?
The answer is yes – but remember that this is the exception. The cases highlighted in the next section are successful examples, but they are few are far between. This does not mean that going to court will be worthless – but understanding the reality of how the law views pets is important. There have been improvements as some cases have given compensation for emotional damage caused by the loss of a pet. Let’s take a closer look:
Court Cases Where Compensation Was Granted – Unlikely but Possible
There is some good news, which can be seen in examples where Ontario courts began to widen their view regarding compensation for the loss of a pet. In some cases, damages were awarded for related pain and suffering associated with the loss of canine companionship.
A pioneer case occurred in 2006, where the court’s decision in Ferguson v. Birchmount Boarding Kennels Ltd granted damages for pain and suffering where a dog escaped from a kennel, never to be found again. Here, the kennel did not adequately take care of the ‘property’ or pet. However, the case resulted in compensation going beyond property damage (often the monetary value of the breed), which is noteworthy. The court awarded $2,527, including $1,417 for emotional damage and the inconvenience experienced by the plaintiffs who were on vacation at the time of the incident. A case result such as this is still an odd one to come by.
The 2010 case of Arnold v. Bekkers Pet Care Inc. involved an incident where a dog was euthanized while staying at an Ontario kennel. The plaintiff claimed that the kennel was negligent in not observing the dog’s deteriorating symptoms and not intervening sooner. The kennel was responsible for the pet, or ‘property’ and its lack of action resulted in ‘loss of property’. The judge recognized the profound relationship that a human can have with a dog, and that the suffering associated with the loss of a pet exceeds the damages of simply replacing the dog. The plaintiff was awarded $2,000 for emotional damage as well as compensation for half of the veterinarian bills once the court found that the kennel’s negligence directly resulted in the animal requiring medical attention.
Remember that these outcomes do not happen in every case concerning animals, although it is promising to see that some cases are considering profound trauma that the loss of a pet can bring.
What about Compensation from a Veterinarian?
Veterinary malpractice refers to medical malpractice where the victims are animals. Vets are not off the hook when it comes to dealing with lawsuits, although winning cases against vets are historically low. This is mostly due to the hefty cost of litigation in comparison to the potential damages that may arise from the claim. Case law trends related to damages seem to suggest that these types of claims should be litigated in Small Claims Court, where the monetary jurisdiction is capped at $25,000. A lawyer will be able to best advise you on how to purse a suspected veterinary malpractice.
The professional practice of veterinarians is carefully regulated by both provincial and federal legislation. With its own regulatory bodies, disciplinary measures can be taken to properly deal with malpractice complaints. Disciplinary Committees have the power to revoke or suspend a license, impose terms, conditions, limitations or specific restrictions on a license or certificate, require the member to be reprimanded, and impose fines and costs.
As a pet owner, it is important to know the rules about legal liability and what to expect when it comes to animal injury claims. This will help you have a better idea about your legal options before you begin to negotiate or take other steps to seek compensation for your pet’s loss or injury.
Hiring a competent attorney to guide you through a claim including the loss or injury of a pet is extremely helpful and will help you navigate their unique requirements.
If your pet has been injured or lost due to negligence, contact Joshua Goldberg Law today.