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What’s your dog’s life worth?

A lawsuit headed to court next week in Arlington County, Virginia will take up the question of what a pet’s life is worth.

Jeffrey Nanni sued his former domestic partner, Maurice Kevin Smith, alleging that Smith  killed their 12-pound Chihuahua, Buster. Smith was found guilty of assault and battery and cruelty to animals in connection with the incident. Since Buster’s death, the suit says, Nanni, 42, a paralegal, “continues to suffer severe emotional distress.”

The suit, according to a story in Monday’s Washington Post, asks that monetary damages be awarded on the basis of  Buster’s worth to Nanni “as a companion animal.”

If he wins, the case would be groundbreaking one in Virginia, where state law says that dogs and cats are considered property, and that owners are entitled to recover only the value of a pet. In the past, that has been interpreted to mean the replacement value.

Nanni’s attorney, a White House counsel for President Bill Clinton, hopes to move the boundaries of Virginia law in asking a jury to award money for “Buster’s actual value” to Nanni, saying pets have “irreplaceable relationships” with their owners.

An animal welfare bill was proposed in Washington would have allowed pet owners to sue for emotional damages if their pets were killed or injured, but that provision was taken out before the bill passed last year. In Maryland, the law says that a pet owner is due “fair market value of the pet before death.”

Nanni’s lawsuit, filed in Arlington Circuit Court in May, accuses Smith of assault and battery, unlawful killing of a dog and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The suit asks for no less than $15,000 in damages.

The case was brought to Davis through the California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund, which is trying to help Nanni and has worked with similar plaintiffs across the country. “We are trying to increase value of their lives to make it more equitable for dog and cat owners who go through these kinds of losses,” said Joyce Tischler, general counsel for the group.

On July 9, 2007, the lawsuit says, they were arguing when Nanni picked Buster up and Smith struck Nanni and Buster repeatedly with a wooden board. Buster died while being rushed to an emergency room, Nanni says.

An autopsy found that Buster died from blunt force trauma to the head.

Smith told the Post he’ll be able to prove he did not kill the dog and said the suit is an attempt to “extort” money from him. He contends that it was Nanni who caused the dog’s head to be hit by the board.

Nanni rescued the dog in 2005, which, in the lawsuit, he compared to “adopting a child.”


Comment from Jasio
Time August 19, 2009 at 9:50 am

The only problem with raising the status of pets from property to “companions” is your vet bills will skyrocket (much like your personal health bills) from all the malpractice insurance vets will be forced to carry (much like your personal doctor). People will not be able to afford giving their cats, dogs and other animals the proper health care they deserve, already many people find veterinary care to be quite expensive due to all the innovation from human medicine in the past 20 years.
What is currently a 2,000 dollar surgery will become a 20,000 dollar surgery, because of insurance.