Op Ed: New Jersey Supreme Court Denies Pet Owners Right To Noneconomic Damages

September 12, 2012Articles New Jersey Law Journal

The N.J. Supreme Court acted in the best interest of pets when it rejected broad, emotion-based damages in pet-injury suits.

More than 50 years after Patti Page had us singing “How much is that doggie in the window,” a battle has broken out to find out how much a doggie, or other pet, is worth in the courtroom.

The cases, where pets are injured or killed, pull at our heartstrings, with owners asking for pain and suffering, emotional distress and other types of noneconomic damages. In July, the New Jersey Supreme Court weighed in, and fortunately for the welfare of animals, it came up with the right answer: owners can be made economically whole for the loss of their pets, but they cannot seek unlimited, emotion-based damages.

The case, McDougall v. Lamm, was brought by Joyce McDougall, who was walking her nine-year-old maltipoo when it was attacked by a neighbor’s dog and died. In New Jersey, as in most states, courts tightly control the circumstances when people, such as McDougall, can be compensated for emotional harm when not injured themselves, namely only when witnessing the brutal death of a spouse or child.

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