CACI 3903O Injury to Pet—Costs of Treatment (Economic Damage)

California Civil Jury Instructions CACI

3903O Injury to Pet—Costs of Treatment (Economic Damage)

[Insert number, e.g., “15.”] The harm to [name of plaintiff]’s pet [specify kind of pet, e.g., dog].

To recover damages for injury to [name of plaintiff]’s pet, [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] must prove the reasonable costs that [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] incurred for the care and treatment of the pet because of [name of defendant]’s conduct.

Directions for Use

Give this instruction to recover the expenses of treating a tortious injury to a pet. Pets are no longer exclusively treated as property with regard to damages. The general standard for damages to personal property based on market value (see CACI No. 3903J, Damage to Personal Property (Economic Damage)), is often inappropriate because pets generally have no value to anyone except the owner. Therefore, recovery of reasonable medical expenses is allowed. The rule applies regardless of the tortious cause of injury, including what may be referred to as veterinary malpractice. (See Martinez v. Robledo (2012) 210 Cal.App.4th 384 [147 Cal.Rptr.3d 921].) CACI No. 3903J may be given if diminution in value is alleged.

Emotional distress damages have been allowed for intentional injury to a pet. (See Plotnik v. Meihaus (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 1590, 1606−1608 [146 Cal.Rptr.3d 585] [claim for trespass to chattels]; see also CACI No. 2101, Trespass to Chattels—Essential Factual Elements.) CACI No. 3905A, Physical Pain, Mental Suffering, and Emotional Distress (Noneconomic Damage), may also be given.

Sources and Authority

“There can be little doubt that most pets have minimal to no market value, particularly elderly pets. … [W]hile people typically place substantial value on their own animal companions, as evidenced by the large sums of money spent on food, medical care, toys, boarding and grooming, etc., there is generally no market for other people’s pets.” (Martinez, supra, 210 Cal.App.4th at p. 390, original italics.)

“[T]he determination of a pet’s value cannot be made solely by looking to the marketplace. If the rule were otherwise, an injured animal’s owner would bear most or all of the costs for the medical care required to treat the injury caused by a tortfeasor, while the tortfeasor’s liability for such costs would in most cases be minimal, no matter how horrific the wrongdoer’s conduct or how gross the negligence of a veterinarian or other animal professional. [¶] Moreover, allowing a pet owner to recover the reasonable costs of the care and treatment of an injured pet reflects the basic purpose of tort law, which is to make plaintiffs whole, or to approximate wholeness to the greatest extent judicially possible.” (Martinez, supra, 210 Cal.App.4th at p. 390.)

“In this case, plaintiff is not plucking a number out of the air for the sentimental value of damaged property; he seeks to present evidence of costs incurred for [the cat]’s care and treatment by virtue of the shooting—a ‘rational way’ of demonstrating a measure of damages apart from the cat’s market value. That evidence is admissible as proof of plaintiff’s compensable damages, and the trial court erred in granting the motions to exclude it. Plaintiff is entitled to have a jury determine whether the amounts he expended for [the cat]’s care because of the shooting were reasonable.” (Kimes v. Grosser (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 1556, 1561–1562 [126 Cal.Rptr.3d 581], internal citations omitted.)

“Plaintiff is not seeking loss of companionship, unique noneconomic value, or the emotional value of the cat, but rather the costs incurred as a result of the shooting.” (Kimes, supra, 195 Cal.App.4th at p. 1560, fn. 3.)

“We recognize the love and loyalty a dog provides creates a strong emotional bond between an owner and his or her dog. But given California law does not allow parents to recover for the loss of companionship of their children, we are constrained not to allow a pet owner to recover for loss of the companionship of a pet.” (McMahon v. Craig (2009) 176 Cal.App.4th 1502, 1519–1520 [97 Cal.Rptr.3d 555].)

“We believe good cause exists to allow the recovery of damages for emotional distress under the circumstances of this case. In the early case of Johnson v. McConnell, supra, 80 Cal. 545, the court noted ‘while it has been said that [dogs] have nearly always been held “to be entitled to less regard and protection than more harmless domestic animals,” it is equally true that there are no other domestic animals to which the owner or his family can become more strongly attached, or the loss of which will be more keenly felt.’ ” (Plotnik, supra, 208 Cal.App.4th at p. 1607, internal citation omitted.)

Secondary Sources

6 Witkin, Summary of California Law (11th ed. 2017) Torts, § 1902
Haning et al., California Practice Guide: Personal Injury, Ch. 3-C, Specific Items Of Compensatory Damages, ¶ 3:220 et seq. (The Rutter Group)
4 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 52, Recovery for Medical Expenses and Economic Loss, § 52.33 (Matthew Bender)
3 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 23, Animals: Civil Liability, § 23.15 (Matthew Bender)
6 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 64, Damages: Tort, § 64.192 (Matthew Bender)