Florida: Hearing 3/14 on Troublesome Bill Allowing Damages for Loss of Pet Companionship

An emotionally-driven, but problematic bill in Florida seeks to provide for compensatory damages for the injury or death of a pet. The bill will be heard by Senate Committee on Judiciary tomorrow, March 14, 2017.

An emotionally-driven, but problematic bill in Florida seeks to provide for compensatory damages for the injury or death of a pet. The bill will be heard by Senate Committee on Judiciary tomorrow, March 14, 2017. 

Dogs are a beloved part of our lives and many owners consider dogs part of the family. These emotional ties have led some individuals and groups to propose fundamental changes to laws dealing with pets, such as allowing large financial awards in lawsuits involving injury to pets. On the surface, this may sound like a good idea that reflects the value people place on their pets. However, there’s a catch—allowing these types of awards in cases involving injury to pets will likely have many unintended consequences, and in the long run may actually harm pets.

Senate Bill 1270 seeks to establish that in any action for the recovery of damages arising out the injury or death of a cat or dog, the defendant is liable for monetary losses that include veterinary care for the pet and monetary losses for the fair market value of the pet. AKC supports such damages.

However, SB 1270 also seeks to establish compensatory damages of up to $5,000 for the loss of non-economic damages such as companionship, love and affection in cases involving the death or injury of a pet that results from the gross negligence of the defendant.

The unintended consequences of HB 1270 will affect many pet owners. The risk of increased legal liability will very likely result in higher costs to cover that liability for all parties in the animal care chain. These costs will ultimately be passed on to pet owners. Further, pet-friendly businesses would also face increased liability if a pet is injured while on the premises.

While a few individual owners might momentarily benefit from monetary awards for non-economic damages, the pets themselves do not.  All other pet owners will see costs of pet ownership increase and access to pet-friendly public places reduced.

Non-profit and governmental entities and their employees that negligently cause the death of a pet while “acting on behalf of public health or animal welfare” would be exempted from all liability. Veterinarians licensed by the state would also be exempted, but their staff members would not. 

The American Kennel Club and other respected animal organizations oppose emotional/non-economic damages for injuries to or loss of animals. Both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Animal Health Institute oppose laws permitting such recovery. 

https://www.avma.org/Advocacy/StateAndLocal/Pages/non-econo-damages.aspx

http://www.ahi.org/issues-advocacy/pet-litigation/

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Dog owners in Florida who are concerned with the far-reaching consequences of this bill are strongly encouraged to contact the members of the Senate Committee on Judiciary to respectfully express their opposition and request that they vote “no” on SB 1270.  Click on the links below for contact information and to access an email form for each committee member.

Florida Senate Committee on Judiciary

Senator Greg Steube, Chair

Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto, Vice Chair

Senator Randolph Bracy

Senator Anitere Flores

Senator Rene Garcia

Senator Audrey Gibson

Senator Debbie Mayfield

Senator Bobby Powell

Senator Perry E. Thurston, Jr.

For more information on the issue of non-economic damages, please read AKC’s issue analysis, Non-Economic Damages, and the Legal Status of Animals.

For additional information, please contact AKC Government Relations at doglaw@akc.org or 919-816-3720.