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Vet Bills May Be Recoverable in a Dog Eat Dog World

angry dogIn February of 2007, Mr. Irwin walked his small dog, Peppermint, in his front yard.  Mr. Irwin had previously been disabled by stroke and was able to walk only with the assistance of a cane.  While Peppermint was doing his daily routine- an unleashed German Shepherd approached the area and came toward Peppermint in his yard.  The German Shepherd took Peppermint by the neck and shook him uncontrollably.  Mr. Irwin was unable to intervene as he was knocked down in the ensuing chaos.  As the owner of the German Shepherd separated the fight, Peppermint ran into the house and was brought to an Emergency Veterinary Center.  The small dog was labeled as being in “critical condition” due to the internal injuries he sustained as well as the bruising and dog bites over his body.  Emergency surgery was performed that totaled approximately $8,608.05 for treatment.

Mr. Irwin, the Plaintiff, brought suit against the Defendant to recovery veterinary costs that totaled over $8,000.00.  The lower court Judge found that these expenses were reasonable and necessary.  Defendant appealed claiming that the damages should be “capped” at the market value of the dog, regardless if the expenses for veterinary care exceeded that amount.

The Plaintiff brought suit under M.G.L. Chapter 140 § 155, which reads, in part:

If any dog shall do any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper, or if the owner or keeper be a minor, the parent or guardian of such minor, shall be liable for such damage, unless such damage shall have been occasioned to the body or property of a person who, at the time such damage was sustained, was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog.

Under the statute, in order to recover a Plaintiff must show that his injuries or property damage was caused by a dog, that was owned or kept by the Defendant, and that when the Plaintiff (or Plaintiff’s property) was injured, he was not trespassing, committing a tort, teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog.

In response to the Defendant’s argument as to placing a cap on the amount of damages a person could recover, the court held that whether veterinary costs are reasonable, and whether it is reasonable to incur them, will depend on the facts of a given case.  Among the factors to be considered are: “the type of animal involved, the severity of its injuries, the purchase and/or replacement price of the animal, its age and special traits or skills, its income-earning potential, whether it was maintained as part of the owner’s household, the likelihood of success of the medical procedures employed, and whether the medical procedures involved are typical and customary to treat the injuries at issue.”

The court went on to hold that while veterinary costs may be recovered in this matter, “the owner cannot recover for his or her own hurt feelings, emotions, or pain. Nor is the owner entitled to recover for the loss of the animal’s companionship or society.”

To read more about this case please see Irwin v. Degtiarov, which was decided on April 25, 2014.  You can find this case by going to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts website and searching the Opinion Archive of the Appeals Court. To learn more, please visit the section of our website dedicated to Dog Bites. If you or someone you know has been the unfortunate victim of a dog bite, our office can help.  To schedule a free consultation with lawyer Daniel Cappetta, call our office today at (508) 969-9505 or fill out or contact form available on the right side of this page.