Thursday, May 25, 2006

Emotional Distress for Pet Injury

Division 3 held today that a cat's owner may sue for emotional distress because of malicious injury to the pet. Womack v. Von Rardon, --- P.3d ---, 2006 WL 1428272 (Wash. App. May 25, 2006), Westlaw, Washington Courts.

For the first time in Washington, we hold malicious injury to a pet can support a claim for, and be considered a factor in measuring a person's emotional distress damages.
The court distinguished a Division 2 case, Pickford v. Masion, 124 Wn. App. 257, 98 P.3d 1232 (2004), which involved negligent, not malicious injury to a pet.

The injury here was malicious: three minor boys took the cat (Max) from the plaintiff's porch to a schoolyard and set him on fire with gasoline. The cat had to be euthanized. Harsh as those facts were, they weren't enough for the tort of outrage:
What happened to Max was deplorable, but the record does not sufficiently establish the required intent or the necessary severity. Moreover, the trial court, after an evidentiary hearing not before us, did find liability among the remaining liability theories. We are not persuaded the damages awarded would differ under a different liability theory except for treble damages in the case of statutory waste. While distressing, the trial court could have decided the harm was not intended or was not sufficiently severe. Thus, the court did not err in dismissing the outrage claim.
The court upheld the award of $5000 to the plaintiff, but upheld the summary judgment against plaintiff on several other theories (e.g., nuisance, waste).

Plaintiff's attorney was Adam Karp, who teaches Animal Law at the UW and SU.

Image: Mao-Mao, safe and sound, with her mousie. Photo by mw.

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