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Friday, April 15, 2016

Connecticut Senate Bill 228, which seeks to allow non-economic damages in cases involving injury to a pet, and House Bill 5344, which seeks to create court-appointed animal advocates in court cases involving pets, are currently pending in the Connecticut General Assembly.  The American Kennel Club (AKC) believes that far-reaching unintended consequences of allowing non-economic damages and creating such advocates will ultimately lead to a diminution of property rights in animals.  These long-term consequences will far outweigh any benefits that may be realized if SB 228 and HB 5344 are enacted.  For these reasons, the AKC opposes SB 228 and HB 5344, and urges all concerned Connecticut breeders and owners to contact their legislators and respectfully urge them to oppose these bills.      

Laws governing animal ownership and animal care throughout the United States have been remarkably consistent for over two hundred years. These traditions provide that pets are considered the legal property of their owners while benefitting from laws governing their care and treatment. Considering animals as property does not mean that we as a society care for our pets any less; rather, it simply provides the reliable legal framework by which owners derive the right and responsibility to provide care in a manner that is best for the animal. When combined with criminal laws prohibiting animal cruelty and dog fighting, and civil laws addressing both intentional and negligent injury and killing of animals, the classification of pets as legal property has served as the foundation of a stable legal system that promotes responsible animal ownership; deters animal abuse; and promotes innovative, affordable, and quality animal care.

There is no question that our society holds dogs in very high esteem. Dogs are such a beloved part of our lives that it is common for owners to consider dogs as 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 juries to award large financial awards in lawsuits involving injury to pets, akin to the provisions of SB 228.  On the surface, this may sound like a good idea and a simple reflection of the value people place on their pets. However, 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.

In Connecticut, tort laws allow owners whose pets are negligently injured or killed to recover the economic value of a pet, the cost of any veterinarian bills resulting from an alleged injury, and other reasonable and necessary costs arising out of the injury.  Further, emotional harm caused by the injuring or killing of a pet is recoverable under a tort cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, which requires showing that the defendant intentionally injured or killed the pet for the sole purpose of inflicting emotional harm against the owner.  In such situations, the bad act is considered as being committed against the owner, not the animal.  The defendant’s conduct against the pet is a factor in assessing the outrageousness of defendant’s conduct toward the owner.  Courts may also require defendants to pay punitive damages to an injured party as a means of punishment for, and a deterrent against, intentional or reckless behavior motivated by malice. 

In contrast to economic damages principles, long-standing legal doctrines limit the availability of non-economic damages to only the close family of victims who have died or who have been severely injured.  As such, non-economic damages are typically not available in cases involving damage to personal property, including animals.  Legal scholars and animal experts agree that significant negative consequences would flow from allowing non-economic damages to be awarded in personal property injury cases.  In the near term, the risk of increased legal liability will most likely result in dramatically higher costs to cover that liability for all parties in the animal care chain (which will ultimately be passed on to animal owners), and pose increased risks to public health if average owners can no longer afford basic veterinary care for their pets.  Additionally, allowing damage remedies usually reserved for people to be available in cases involving pets will likely lead, in the long term, to a diminution of the legal status of animals.

We believe current Connecticut law provide a stable basis for recovery and does not confuse tort and property law principles as SB 228 does. 

Click here to see our previous alert on SB 228. 

Similar reasoning serves as our basis for expressing concern about the creation of court-appointed animal advocates, as provided in HB 5344.  Providing third-party advocates in a legal dispute is usually reserved to protect the interests of minors or other people lacking legal capacity.  However, providing similar advocates for animals may implicitly yet fundamentally impact the legal status of animals in the state.  We believe that the State of Connecticut is already capable of fairly adjudicating animal cruelty and other animal issues without, in a larger sense, potentially jeopardizing the current legal status of animals and without, on the smaller level, involving outside organizations and interests to influence the adjudication of individual cases.  Individual owners could be forced to share their rights and interests in their property with courts and third parties.  Third-party appointees could use the court system to force a person to make decisions they believe to not be in the best interests of their animal, including deprivation of ownership rights and permanent alteration of an animal.  Current state law does not confuse the roles of animal owners and the government, and we believe better protects animals, and their owners, in the long run than a new law providing court-appointed animal advocates would.  

WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Concerned Connecticut residents are encouraged to contact your state legislators and urge them to oppose SB 228 and HB 5344. 

Use the General Assembly’s website to determine the contact information for your Connecticut state legislators: https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/cgafindleg.asp

For more information, contact AKC’s Government Relations Department at 919-816-3720, or email doglaw@akc.org.  doglaw@akc.org

Connecticut Senate Bill 228, which seeks to allow non-economic damages in cases involving injury to a pet, and House Bill 5344, which seeks to create court-appointed animal advocates in court cases involving pets, are currently pending in the Connecticut General Assembly. The American Kennel Club (AKC) believes that far-reaching unintended consequences of allowing non-economic damages and creating such advocates will ultimately lead to a diminution of property rights in animals. All concerned Connecticut breeders and owners are urged to contact their legislators and respectfully urge them to oppose these bills.

If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact us at enewsletter@akc.org
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