NJ Court: Dogs Aren’t People

Under New Jersey law, a party can recover damages for emotional distress when they witness the death of a loved one. However, a New Jersey appellate court recently held that such a claim does not apply when the loved one is a dog.

In McDougal v. Lamm, plaintiff described in detail the attachment she had for Angel, a “maltipoo”, including the fact that she and Angel lived in their home alone and slept in the same bed. Plaintiff was understandably upset when she witnessed Angel mauled and killed by the defendant’s larger dog.

But the trial court held plaintiff was only entitled to $5,000, the replacement value of the dog. The Appellate Division affirmed the decision, looking to other areas of New Jersey law where the loss of a pet’s life was not compensable in the same way as a person. The Court also found that the judiciary enacted other statutes to deter dog owners from allowing their pets to run loose. In the end, it found that it should be up to the Supreme Court or Legislature to extend such relief.

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