Here’s a fun little fact about animal-related laws: Courts in many states treat pets as personal property even though 95% of Americans view pets as family.
That’s right -- in the eyes of the law, your pup is not much different from a piece of jewelry (albeit one that loves to play fetch).
Thanks to anti-cruelty statutes, lawsuits involving animal injuries or deaths usually compensate an owner who suffers emotional distress from the demise of their dogs, ponys, or other ‘personal property.’ But your so-called personal property is actually capable of causing more trouble than you give them credit for.
The illegally-owned monkey
In June 2018, Floridian Cody Hession stole a car from a St. Petersburg resident, promptly drove it into a ditch, and was arrested.
Other than Cody being charged with grand theft misdemeanor -- punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, or both -- this case was cut and dried. Until the monkey got involved.
Spicing up this little auto accident is Monk, Cody’s Capuchin monkey which had come along for the joyride. Monk was clinging to Cody's shirt while he was being arrested, which would be sweet if it didn’t cause more trouble for Cody.
Cody's frightened friend, it turned out, was illegal property. Authorities tagged possession of an exotic animal onto the list of charges and confiscated Monk.
It’s a sad parting, but one that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission deemed best for the co-pilot primate.
The hot dog
Saving a dog trapped inside an extremely warm car is a heroic act worth turning into a Hallmark movie. But legally speaking, it's only heroic if you're in Good Samaritan states like Florida, Tennessee, or Wisconsin, which have laws that allow private citizens to rescue animals they find inside a baking Benzo.
Unfortunately for Army veteran Michael Hammons, Georgia is not one of those states. This is why, instead of being thanked when he rescued a Pomeranian-mix from a Mustang, he was arrested.
Georgia state law allows the rescue of a person from a hot car, but not an animal. The car owner pressed charges for criminal trespassing, but our hero got lucky when authorities dropped the charges.
Seeing as Washington isn't one of the Good Samaritan states, there are some important takeaways from Mr. Hammons' case
- Saving a perspiring pup in the Evergreen state could land you in court.
- As the pet owner, you could avoid damage to your vehicle by, say, not locking your pet inside it. Just because pets are property doesn't mean you can't be charged with animal cruelty.
- If you find yourself in a situation where you have to choose between saving an animal’s life or facing the wrath of their owner, you might not have enough time to pause and consider whether you’ll be punished or rewarded for doing a good deed.
In Washington, leaving your animal inside a hot car where it could be harmed or killed gives only law enforcement and humane officers the right to break in to rescue your poor little Fido.
The ferocious feline
Cats mind their own business most of the time. But sometimes, they lash out for attention; other times they can cause severe domestic disturbances.
While Jenifer Holland was cleaning Sarah Reynolds-Jackson and Joshua Chambers’ house, she was bitten on the finger by their house cat. According to Sarah and Joshua, their furry housemate does have a tendency to be aggressive and generally isn’t fond of humans. Not warning their housecleaner of this fact was a costly mistake.
According to Jenifer, her tiff with the tabby resulted in two surgeries, $107,000 in medical bills, a “severe systemic infection,” and $25,000 in lost wages -- which prompted her to file a $250,000 lawsuit.
Sound outrageous for a cat bite? It’s not unprecedented: Consumer Affairs shows cat bites are more dangerous than dog bites.
As personal injury lawyers, we’ve handled numerous cases where pernicious pets caused legal troubles for their owners. Call Seattle personal injury attorneys Buckingham, LaGrandeur & Williams to discuss your animal-related injury case.