Liability in Indiana for Loss of a Pet Get your
Free Consultation
Custy Law Firm | Accident & Injury Lawyers

May 22, 2019

Liability in Indiana for Loss of a Pet

Which is worth more, your kitchen table or your dog or cat?  Unless you have a particularly shoddy kitchen table or a high-end purebred dog or cat, the answer may surprise you.
The long-standing rule in Indiana is that damages for the loss of a beloved pet are limited to the fair market value of the pet.  This rule was recently affirmed in Liddle v. Clark, in which a woman’s dog was killed by an unmarked trap while they were visiting a state park.  See Liddle v. Clark, 107 N.E.3d 478 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018).  In an era where many people acquire pets for free from shelters, the fair market value of a pet may be almost nothing.   Certainly, the value of a pet assigned by the courts may be a woeful fraction of the emotional investment people feel for their pets.

The rule that the loss of a pet is limited to the fair market value of the pet is even extended to cases where another party intentionally killed the pet, and is not merely limited to cases such as Liddle where a pet was killed through the negligent acts of another.  Indiana courts have also routinely rejected claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress by pet owners where no physical harm to the pet owner themselves occurred, even in such grave instances as when a pet is mortally wounded right in front of its owner through the negligent actions of another.  See Lachenman v. Stice, 838 N.E.2d 451 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005).

At first glance the options for recovery for a pet owner seem completely foreclosed – you can only recover the fair market value of your pet and nothing more.  However, some options which have not yet been tested in the courts may permit a higher recovery depending on the specifics of the situation:

  • Impact Rule
  • Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
  • Trespass
  • Punitive Damages

A.      Impact Rule   

Under the Indiana impact rule, generally in order to collect for negligent infliction of emotional distress, the claimant must show that the damages are the result of a physical impact to the claimant.  Here, if the owner was harmed in some way during the incident in which the pet was killed, the ordinary bar to recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress may be erased and a higher recovery may be possible.  For example, if the owner was bitten trying to separate their dog from an attacking dog, that physical harm may be sufficient to satisfy the Indiana impact rule.

B.     Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

While older Indiana cases seem to suggest no recovery is possible beyond the fair market value of the pet, those cases often pre-date the adoption of intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) by Indiana courts.  To recover for IIED, the defendant must: (1) engage in “extreme and outrageous” conduct that (2) intentionally or recklessly (3) causes (4) severe emotional distress to another.  See Bradley v. Hall, 720 N.E.2d 747, 752 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999).  Here, while Indiana courts have been disinclined to permit recovery in most cases, if the circumstances of a case were particularly outrageous then recovery under IIED for the loss of a pet may be possible.

C.     Trespass

Trespass can factor into a potential recovery for the loss of a pet in two ways.

  • First, Indiana has held that the “impact rule” for recovery of damages from emotional distress does not apply where that emotional distress was accompanied by an intentional trespass.  See Cullison v. Medley, 570 N.E.2d 27 (Ind. 1991).  Therefore, if a pet is harmed in a way that causes severe emotional distress to the owner and that harm is caused by a trespasser, the impact rule will not apply and the ordinarily strict limits on damages for the loss may be loosened.
  • Second, damages for trespass are generally not limited to the harm that takes place to the property as that harm may be negligible by itself and courts have held that such a recovery is an insufficient protection of an owner’s property rights.  As a result, damages for harm to a pet during the course of a trespass may not be limited to the market value of the pet.

D.    Punitive Damages

Even if none of the above situations apply, it may still be possible to recover more than the fair market value of the lost pet by asking the court or jury to award punitive damages as well.  If the loss of the pet came as the result of a contract, such as with a pet boarding facility, then Indiana courts may permit recovery of punitive damages where there is an independent tort as well, such as conversion (theft or destruction of property).  Additionally, if the loss of the pet is through the malice, recklessness, or wanton behavior of another, punitive damages may also apply for malicious, reckless, or wanton conversion.  See Monarch Buick Co. v. Kennedy, 209 N.E.2d 922 (Ind. Ct. App. 1965).  Those punitive damages in Indiana are limited to three times the amount of compensatory damages or $50,000, whichever is greater.  IC 34-51-3-4.

While the loss of a cherished pet can be a traumatic experience, plaintiffs do have options to recover for that tragedy under certain circumstances beyond the mere economic loss. Knowing the full details surrounding the circumstances of the loss may help to develop alternative theories for recovery such as those listed here.

Special thanks to Scott Seville, our summer clerk, who wrote this article.

In The News

Mar 01
What Is a Truck Driver’s Travel Log?

Truck drivers have a huge responsibility when they’re operating their fully loaded, 80,000-pound vehicles. When you or a loved one is involved in a collision with a truck, you can… Read More

VIEW ALL NEWS
Do Helmet Laws Impact Fault in a Motorcycle Accident?
Jan 01

If you have been involved in a motorcycle accident, you may be wondering how helmet laws could affect your insurance claim or lawsuit. Even though helmets are not required by… Read More

How to Request an Accident Report
Dec 01

Requesting a police report after a car accident is one of the most critical steps you can take. It might contain the details you need to show another driver’s actions… Read More

Five Tips for Safe Travel During the Holidays
Nov 01

December is one of the busiest times of the year on the road. As increased numbers of people travel to spend time with their loved ones over the holidays, the… Read More

How Are Truck Accidents Different from Other Auto Accidents?
Oct 15

We need the trucking industry to help make our lives easier. Trucks deliver our groceries and our goods. They deliver fuel for our vehicles and provide a livelihood for many… Read More

Testimonials

Custy Law Firm has redeemed the reputation lawyers face in the legal field. I’m so grateful for their professionalism, their communication skills as well as their knowledge of the law.… Read More

- Yolonda M

Brian and his team were extremely helpful to us in resolving our case (related to personal injury from a traffic accident).  Brian listened to what our goals were for the… Read More

- Saroj S.

As a medical professional, I would like to testify that Mr. Brian Custy is the best attorney I met in Indiana. I trust his knowledge, experience, and professionalism. The firm… Read More

- Fei L.

From the first visit at Custy Law , I felt completely comfortable that my Auto accident would be taken care of. It was as if a huge weight was lifted… Read More

- Glenn H.

I am extremely happy with the quality of service and guidance I have received with Custy. His staff are amazing and he is very professional and down to earth. He… Read More

- Erin C.

Custy Law Firm provides the highest level of professional and ethical services to its clients. Brian Custy and staff are deeply committed to obtaining justice for those harmed by the… Read More

- Lisa C.

My experience with The Custy Law Firm has been nothing short of fantastic. I knew very little after PA school regarding the reading, understanding, and negotiating of contracts when accepting… Read More

- Monica B.

We’ve known Brian for a long time and he’s excellent on many levels. He has always focused on learning, achieving his goals, and operating ethically. He’s friendly, hard-working, very professional,… Read More

- Jenne C.

Brian Custy helped me at a time I needed someone I could trust.  He was attentive, positive, thorough, knowledgeable, and professional in every exchange.

- Judy M.

To some they would think my case as minimal. Custy Law Firm treated me with the most respect and consideration. Thank you CLF.

- William C.

I originally tried to use our legal counsel from my union. I was getting lowball offers, and after I refused to accept their offer, I was fired by my very… Read More

- RYAN D.

Since day one i have received the best service that anybody can ask for. Mr. Custy and Melissa have been such caring and trustworthy people. They really make you feel… Read More

- Joel Marquart

“Mr. Custy is an excellent lawyer that not only takes care of business but actually takes the time to listen to his clients. Mr. Custy cares and that is why… Read More

- CARLOS G

I have had the pleasure of working with Attorney Custy for the past two years on two cases at the same time. This has been the hardest thing I have… Read More

- ANGIE R.

“Brian Custy is a terrific lawyer that takes the time to walk you through the entire process, explaining all of the details that often times get overlooked. His follow-up was… Read More

- COREY O.

“Mr. Custy is a very good lawyer. He goes out of his way to make sure he is doing the best he can for your case. He is always there… Read More

- ALICE B.

“ Custy Law Firm | Accident & Injury Lawyers has gone above and beyond while working on my case. I was injured on the job and Brian has given me… Read More

- TIFFANY G.
View All Testimonials
National Association of Distinguished Counsels
Illinois State Bar Association Logo
Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys
National Trial Lawyers top 100 Attorneys Logo
NTL Top 10 for Trucking Litigation
National Institute for Trial Advocacy
Indiana Trial Lawyers Assocation
Trial Lawyer's College Thunderhead Ranch Logo
American Association for Justice Logo
American Association for Justice Logo

GET YOUR FREE

CASE EVALUATION