Just as a media boomlet was getting started, a Clackamas County judge has ruled that Oregon law does not permit Mark Greenup and his family to seek loss-of-companionship damages over their neighbor’s having run over their mixed cocker spaniel-Labrador retriever, Grizz, an injury for which they were asking a cool $1.625 million. The case had been touted as a potential breakthrough in the campaign to authorize essentially unlimited monetary damages over the human unhappiness caused when a pet is killed or injured (see May 10, 2005, etc.) and advocates thought they had an unusually sympathetic fact pattern to work with: the Greenups’ neighbor, Raymond Weaver, had been convicted of first-degree animal abuse. Once the principle of damages for loss of companionship had been established, of course, it would be likely to spread to contexts where simple negligence was alleged on the part of veterinarians, drivers or animal handlers. Circuit Judge Eve Miller permitted the Greenups to seek punitive damages and intentional infliction of emotional stress against Weaver (who continues to deny that he harmed the dog intentionally) but said loss-of-companionship damages are barred by Oregon law. (“Judge rejects part of dog lawsuit claim”, AP/Roseburg (Ore.) News-Review, May 23; Steve Mayes, “Case Could Redefine Value of a Pet”, Newhouse/The Oregonian, May 23; “US neighbours in dead dog lawsuit “, BBC, May 23; letters to the editor, The Oregonian, May 24).
P.S. While we’re at it, what a very bad idea: federal mandates for pet evacuation plans.
Disturbed at the growth of recent sizable rulings and requests for non-economic damages for pets (Sep. 7; Mar. 8; Nov. 21, 2003; Jul. 30, 2003), the Animal Health Institute is lobbying for liability reform that precludes such damages. (Judy Sarasohn, “Tort Watch for Animal Lovers”, Washington Post, Dec. 29).