On Wednesday, May 4, at 1:00 pm the Delaware Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on a bill that would allow a person to receive damages for both the veterinarian cost and care of a pet as well as damages for mental distress or emotional harm caused by the injury or death of a companion animal.
AKC encourages Delawareans to contact the Senate Judiciary Committee to express your opposition to Senate Bill 258. Scroll down for contact information.
Allowing non-economic damages for pets calls into question the legal status of pets as property. The legal concept that pets are personal property protects pet ownership and the rights of pet owners. A change in the legal status of animals could result in restricting the rights of owners, veterinarians, and government agencies to protect and care for dogs.
Under current Delaware law, an owner is only permitted to recover the fair market value of a pet, regardless of the amount of veterinary bills or expenses related to care stemming from a tortious injury that is inflicted by a third party or a third party’s animal.
As written, SB 258 states that:
- A person who tortiously causes an injury to, or death of, a pet while acting directly or through an animal under that person’s ownership, direction, or control is liable to the owner of the pet for compensatory damages.
- The damages awarded under this section may not in any event exceed $15,000 for the cost of veterinary care, plus the fair market value of the pet before death, plus $15,000 for emotional trauma and pain and suffering.
AKC does not oppose appropriate compensatory damages. As written, however, Senate Bill 258 establishes non-economic damages for mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of companionship, comfort, and protection of up to $15,000 resulting from the injury or death of a pet.
Although such concepts may sound benign, they represent a potential change in the legal status of animals (animal rights) and would increase the cost of care significantly; ultimately undermining the ability of pet owners to care for their pets.
The AKC understands the pain and trauma that can result when a beloved pet is injured or killed. However, AKC opposes the awarding of non-economic damages related to a pet because such damages are not typically available for personal property. Even though the bill continues to deem pets as personal property, allowing non-economic damages for pets calls into question the true legal status of pets as property. The legal concept that pets are personal property protects pet ownership and the rights of pet owners. A change in the legal status of animals could result in restricting the rights of owners, veterinarians, and government agencies to protect and care for dogs.
Additionally, allowing such damages and the resulting practitioner insurance necessary to cover for such damages will significantly increase the cost of pet care across the entire spectrum of animal care providers.
Leading animal organizations including the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Animal Health Institute join AKC in opposing laws that permit non-economic (pain and distress) damages for the loss of a pet.
For more information on the issue of non-economic damages, please read AKC’s issue analysis about Non-Economic Damages and view the Legal Status of Animals “Key Issue” page in the Legislative Action Center.
What You Can Do:
Register to Comment at the May 4 hearing: The Senate Judiciary Committee will be considering SB 258 at a public hearing on Wednesday, May 4, at 1:00 pm.
Public comments will be accepted from both in-person and virtual participants. Please note that space in the physical meeting room is limited. Upon clicking the registration link, you will be directed to a webpage to enter required fields (e.g., name, email, organization etc.). After submitting the required information, the registrant will receive an email containing the virtual meeting link, meeting ID, and password. This email will also include options to join the meeting via telephone.
Submit Written Remarks until Thursday, May 5: Written remarks may be submitted to Christella.StJuste@delaware.gov. Public comments provided in writing will be accepted prior to the committee meeting and up to 24 hours after a hearing has adjourned. All written public comments will be considered part of the official record.
Contact the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee before the May 4 hearing. Click the links for more contact information.
AKC Government Relations will continue to closely monitor this bill and communicate with the General Assembly. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.