You could argue that your dog, cat or other pet is a member of the family, a sentient being. Certainly some dogs can reason like a young child. (Watch the above video for Chaser’s inferential reasoning). Its loss would be [or was] as emotionally devastating as the loss of any other human member of the family. But, in Florida your damages may be severely limited.
Of course, for any malpractice case to succeed one needs to prove that the vet fell below the standard of care, and that the deviation caused the death or injury to the pet (not just that after treatment the pet was still hurt or died).
But the catch for veterinarian malpractice cases in Florida is the limitation of damages typically recoverable. The general rule is stated in Kennedy v. Byas, 867 So.2d 1195 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004). The court held that damages were limited to the market value of the pet, that is was not to be treated as a human, and that the owner’s claim for emotional distress was not allowed. So, assuming the vet has not intentionally killed the pet, the typical case will at best, bring damages in the Small Claims Court’s range.
An exception occurs if the animal is killed maliciously in front of the owner. In La Porte v. Associated Independents, Inc., 163 So.2d 267 (Fla. 1964), a garbage man threw a garbage can at Heidi, a tethered miniature dachshund, killing her in as the owner watched. Our Supreme Court overturned the lower appellate court, and said
The District Court of Appeal held that generally in the case of injury to, or destruction of, a dog only the market value of the animal or some special or pecuniary value could establish the amount of the loss. Then the court concluded with the flat statement: ‘It is improper to include an allowance for sentimental value of the dog to its owner.’ The restriction of the loss of a pet to its intrinsic value in circumstances such as the ones before us is a principle we cannot accept. Without indulging in a discussion of the affinity between ‘sentimental value’ and ‘mental suffering’, we feel that the affection of a master for his dog is a very real thing and that the malicious destruction of the pet provides an element of damage for which the owner should recover, irrespective of the value of the animal because of its special training such as a Seeing Eye dog or sheep dog.
So, if the vet was only negligent, and your pet was not marketable, the cost of bringing the case will outweigh any potential benefits to you, and you subject yourself to sanctions in certain situations.
But you might file a professional grievance against the veterinarian. Here is the link to do so.
Clifford M. Miller
Florida Bar Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer
Miller Law Offices
3760 20th St; Ste B
Vero Beach FL 32960-2464