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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Should we recognize negligent infliction of emotional distress in death of pets?

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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PHOTO: Piotr Ciuchta / SXC

The Wall Street Journal takes up the question – How Much Is Your Dog’s Life Worth? – in litigation that is.

Most people consider their pet priceless. But in civil law, at least, pets are usually seen as property — akin to a toaster or TV set — worth only their market value. Now, amid the incidences of tainted pet food tied to animal deaths and the subsequent rash of lawsuits against pet-food makers, there’s a push to put a higher value on a pet’s life.

[Advocates] say pet owners whose animal is injured or killed should receive compensation not only for vet bills and a replacement animal — but for emotional distress as well. While legal experts say big payouts for emotional damages are unlikely in the pet-food cases, the lawsuits and large number of pets affected could accelerate a growing trend to give pets more recognition under the law.

There’s no question that the life and welfare of our pets have emotional value. If my grandparents had to choose between saving me or their two dogs from a burning building I’m not sure I’d want to know the outcome. Yet I shudder at the thought of making it legally cognizable. I suspect courts will be reluctant to open the door for a parade of sob stories seeking outlandish awards on the premise of who can cry the hardest on the stand. It begs the question of whether or not a somewhat objective method of calculating emotional value can be found. Of course there are the issues of who has standing for bystander recovery, that would be a fun one to sort out.

WSJ: How Much Is Your Dog’s Life Worth?

A separate but equally pressing issue, IMHO, is when we should start recognizing a dog’s cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress against their owners.

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Or perhaps alienation of affections?

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