Can I Get Compensation if My Pet Was Killed?
With few exceptions, Maryland’s cap on damages for pet deaths is $10,000By Trevor Kupfer | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on February 9, 2024 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Maria K. Patterson
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- The Market Value Cap on Compensatory Damages Often Makes Cases Unfeasible to Pursue
- Limited Options for Getting Non-Economic Damages
- Challenges Getting Legal Help and the Small Claims Court Option
- Reaching Out to an Animal Law Attorney for a Case Evaluation
“I got a recent call from a pet owner whose dog was killed by another dog,” says Maria K. Patterson, a personal injury lawyer at Patterson Law in Annapolis, Maryland. “The owner suffered great emotional distress, but the state cap on the loss of a pet is limited to the fair market value of the pet before death and reasonable and necessary veterinary care costs, not to exceed $10,000.”
The Market Value Cap on Compensatory Damages Often Makes Cases Unfeasible to Pursue
Patterson explains that in this case, “Since [the owner] was bitten, that allowed for the recovery of pain and suffering and added significant value to the case. Had he not been bitten, the loss of the dog’s life would have been capped at $10,000, and most insurance companies would not willingly offer $10,000 without proving damages in that amount. Accordingly, for most people, it may not be worth pursuing such a case, especially in light of the emotional distress of reliving the incident. Ironically, I am sure the owner would opt to suffer the bite over and over again if only to have his dog alive. It is a very sad case.”
Unfortunately for pet owners, such a case is not unusual—nor is Maryland alone in viewing the death of a pet this way. In fact, courts awarding market value damages is the norm when they view an animal best friend as personal property, and awards rarely exceed $10,000.
“It’s a shame because there are some people whose pets are like their children,” says Patterson, who handles injury and criminal defense cases. “Tragically, losing a pet and then learning of the cap on damages adds insult to injury.”
Limited Options for Getting Non-Economic Damages
There is only one way a pet owner’s emotional distress can be considered, Patterson adds, and it stems from the case of Brooks v. Jenkins. That case concerned a police officer who shot and killed the Jenkins’ dog in front of them. The Appellate Court of Maryland upheld a Frederick County jury award to the Jenkins family of $200,000 in emotional distress damages ($100,000 to each spouse) plus $7,500 in vet bills.
“The only reason this case turned out the way it did is because the case involved a count for violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights under Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights,” Patterson says. “This allows one to enforce rights through a common law claim for damages.”
However, if you do not have a state actor, like the police in this case, you will be limited to the state’s cap on damages for pets, Patterson says. (Even animal control and the humane society often fall under other municipal entities.)
Challenges Getting Legal Help and the Small Claims Court Option
Adding more insult to injury, the cap may keep attorneys from jumping at these cases. If someone were to pursue a case on their own, Patterson says small claims court might be the best bet. “Small claims cases are capped at $5,000 in Maryland—or $10,000, in D.C.—and you do not have the strict rules of evidence, so you can admit a police report or hearsay,” she says.
“However, some people do not want to handle claims on their own, and they are likely overwhelmed due to their unfamiliarity with the whole claims procedure,” Patterson continues. “For maximum recovery of $10,000, if it is arguably an open-and-shut case, I would imagine some lawyers would be interested in taking on and pursuing it, especially if they are empathetic to the pet owner. However, liability would probably have to be pretty clear against the pet owner. For instance, if the dog had bitten before or was off leash at the time of the incident.”
Reaching Out to an Animal Law Attorney for a Case Evaluation
At the very least, it might be worth reaching out to an animal law or personal injury attorney to consider your case. If the circumstances seem right, an attorney might help you seek compensation in your difficult time.
For more information on this area of law, see our overview of animal law.
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