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A New Kind of Dog Bite Case Leads to $96,000 Jury Verdict for Our Client

Plattner Verderame, P.C. recently obtained a $96,000 jury verdict on behalf of a client who was attacked by two dogs. The case was not a typical dog bite case, however, which allowed attorney Nick Verderame to apply the law in a new – and successful – way for our client.

Our client was taking his pet Corgi for a walk when he was attacked by two dogs. The dogs bit our client in the hand, and they killed his beloved pet. We sought general damages for our client’s emotional distress not only over his attack, but also for the defendant’s dogs killing our client’s pet. The defendant’s insurance company, State Farm, would not fully compensate our client for the harm, so the case went to a jury. The jury sided with our client and awarded him client $96,000.

Ten years ago, a claim for emotional damages for the loss of a pet would have been unheard of, even with a jury filled with pet owners. In Kaufman v. Langhofer (2009), the Court of Appeals in Maricopa County specifically held that pet owners could not seek damages for emotional stress related to the death of a pet. Today, both juries and legislators are recognizing the role that pets play in families, and the trauma such losses cause. In order to understand why this claim was possible, we need to look at the legal history of pets.

In Arizona

Up until 2014, AZ Rev Stat § 1-215 listed “dogs” as “personal property.” In 2015, though, the word “dog” was removed from the statute. It is worth noting, too, that the statute never actually listed “pets” as property. As we explained back in 2018, that made the law a little murky when it came to addressing concerns regarding family pets.

Then, in April 2021, Governor Ducey signed House Bill 2507 into law. The bill, known as “Matthew’s Law,” allows “a landlord to release an animal to a relative of a deceased or incapacitated tenant.” The reason he signed the bill, Governor Ducey said, was because “family members should be able to protect a loved one’s pet after a tragic event.” Note that his emphasis is on protecting the pet.

In the country

A few other things changed in Arizona and the country as a whole on the last few years, too. First, more and more states started passing laws that said pets were not property, and that their welfare must be considered when a couple divorces. (Arizona has not yet done so.) Second, the last Administration passed some pretty strict federal laws about cruelty to animals, making it a felony offense. Third, the country got ravaged by COVID-19, and shelters emptied out as people started fostering and adopting animals.

So: what do all these things have in common? Every single one of them shows the direction the country is moving, and how important animals are to us collectively.

The evolution of “pet” law

Pets may be property in Arizona, but we don’t see them the same way we see dishwashers, cars, and art collections. So many of us see them as extensions of our families, and things are starting to change to reflect those feelings. For example, there are multiple companies that offer bereavement days when a pet dies, including Kimpton Hotels and Salesforce (though Salesforce doesn’t have a specific pet bereavement policy).

In short, the way pets are viewed under the law is changing and evolving.

Nick Verderame presents his case to the Melvin Belli Society

This case was different enough, and the application of law was different enough, that Nick Verderame was invited to present it at the Melvin Belli Society Seminar in Atlanta. Nick’s presentation, titled “Friends with Benefits: Getting Emotional Damages for the loss of Man’s Best Friend and Other Pets,” outlined his process for the application of law in this case.

A New Kind of Dog Bite Case Leads to $96,000 Jury Verdict for Our Client

Can you claim damages for the loss of a pet in Arizona?

As the jury showed, you can – but right now, there is no clear-cut path to doing so. The law may be evolving, but it has not been rewritten, so attorneys must look at each case individually to see which rules could apply. It’s important to remember, too, that the type of animal matters. Cows, for example, are not pets; neither are service animals, or any pet whose value comes from monetary concerns. They will be viewed and valued differently than the family dog or cat. Further, we cannot say with certainty if the loss of a pet alone would be enough to bring a claim, or if the owner would also have to be harmed physically.

We’re pleased to see that the laws are changing. We’re even more pleased that we were able to secure this verdict on behalf of our clients. If you have questions about dog bite laws in Arizona, we can help.  Please call 602-266-2002, or contact us to speak with a skilled Phoenix personal injury attorney at Plattner Verderame, P.C. today. We maintain an additional office in Tempe for your convenience.