In 1870, attorney George Graham Vest reportedly argued that “the one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.” While that observation may be true, may a pet owner recover for emotional injuries sustained when her dog is violently attacked and killed right before her eyes? Or, is the pet owner’s loss no different than a shattered piece of furniture or other item of personal property?
In McDougall v. Lamm, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a pet owner may not recovery for emotional distress caused by observing the traumatic death of a pet. The court drew a sharp line in the sand and declined to expand the reach of prior case law designed to compensate individuals for the traumatic loss of a narrowly defined class of individuals such as parents, children or fiancés . In short, the death of a pet may be tragic but the owner cannot recover for any ensuing emotional loss in New Jersey.
The loss of a “man’s [or woman’s] best friend” may be devastating, but the aggrieved owner may not recover for any emotional loss no matter how severe.
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