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Experienced Phoenix Lawyers Explain Your Rights Regarding Your Dogs

Understanding Arizona’s laws in regard to negligence claims for injured people and pets

There are pets, and then there are pets. Your pet stays at home, and maybe plays fetch in the backyard. A pet wears small sweaters, eats special “pupsicles” from Starbucks, and is the star of his or her own Instagram. No matter what you do online, you’re bound to see videos, Snaps, and memes featuring people’s animals. There is plenty of research that discusses the bonds between animals and people, and over the last few years, the internet has actually created its own lingo for pets. If you have a “doggo” or a “pupperino,” the chances are good you consider yourself a pet parent, not a pet owner.

Sadly, this distinction can prove problematic when your pet is harmed – or causes harm to others. In almost every case, your pet is property – nothing more, nothing less. However, recent changes here in Arizona (and across the country) have been granting companion animals the same rights as people. We wanted to take this opportunity to explain some of Arizona’s laws, so that you had all the facts you needed in case you wish to pursue a claim for negligence which resulted in an injury.

What, exactly, is a pet?

The word “pet” is defined by Merriam Webster as “a tame animal kept as a companion rather than for work.” Arizona does not define pet, exactly – but it does define what a pet is not; namely:

  • A working animal, which “means a horse or dog that is used by a law enforcement agency, that is specially trained for law enforcement work and that is under the control of a handler.”
  • A service animal, which is “an animal that has completed a formal training program, that assists its owner in one or more daily living tasks that are associated with a productive lifestyle and that is trained to not pose a danger to the health and safety of the general public.”

Pets are also not wildlife (as in, a non-domesticated animal).

The reason that these definitions are important is because an animal which provides companionship – especially ones who lives in your home, snuggles with you on the furniture or the floor, engages in games (like fetch) for no other purpose than pure enjoyment, and so forth – is likely one which will develop a bond with its owner, and whose owner will develop an emotional bond with it.

What does the law say?

Traditionally, pets have been considered property. In 2014, AZ Rev Stat § 1-215 defined personal property as “money, goods, chattels, dogs, things in action and evidences of debt.”

In 2015, the word “dogs” was removed from A.R.S. § 1-215, and it has remained that way ever since.


What does the law mean?

This is the tricky part. On the one hand, the statutes never said anything about “pets,” per se – only dogs. Thus, any claim involving the family cat would, under the strictest letter of the law, seem to be null and void.

But this is not how things have played out in various courts.

In family courts, for example, pets of all kinds are considered divisible marital property, and treated as such. However, those judges may, of their own will, consider such things as the best interests o the animals, and who is the true provider in terms of vet care, feeding the animals, etc., when they make decisions.

In criminal courts, cruelty to animals can lead to felony charges. In fact, under A.R.S. § 13-2910, there are 13 specific definitions of animal cruelty, and nine different sub-sections of the law, covering pets, service animals, work-related animals, and farm animals.

In the civil courts, so far, plaintiffs seeking damages for negligence have only been able to claim market value of a pet or animal. With the removal of “dogs” from the statute, however, it is conceivable that a claim could be made for emotional damages.


A stronger potential claim

Although it has not been attempted yet, this change to the law presents a potential opportunity. Now, if your dog is injured, the injury may be worth more than simply the vet bills and “market value” of your dog. You may also be able to bring a claim for your emotional distress in addition to your financial loss. Emotional distress cases can be difficult and are very fact specific – as always, you should consult an attorney.

Understand that there is no guarantee that such a claim would be successful. This is a very new, and very murky, area of the law.


Pet negligence, dog bites, and calculating a loss

In the simplest of terms, if you are attacked by a dog, a cat, a domesticated ferret (or another animal defined as a “pet”), you can make a claim for damages. Typically, a dog bite case would seek damages for medical treatment, any loss of property, and any pain and suffering the attack caused you.

If your neighbor’s dog attacks your pet, you can make a claim for the same types of damages you could if your dog was injured or died as a result of another form of negligence:

  • Any associated vet bills
  • Any loss of property (such as, for example, damage to a fence if the aggressor dog came into your yard)
  • The market value of your pet if dies as a result of the attack

What you could not do is make a claim for emotional damages on behalf of your injured pet. Dogs cannot file lawsuits, and you could not file on behalf of your dog because Arizona law only allows lawsuits to be filed on behalf of people. So while you could make a claim for your own emotional distress, your pet could not – and therefore, you cannot file on his or her behalf, either.

No can you file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of your pet if he or she dies as a result of the attack. Under A.R.S. § 12-612, “An action for wrongful death shall be brought by and in the name of the surviving husband or wife, child, parent or guardian, or personal representative of the deceased person for and on behalf of the surviving husband or wife, children or parents, or if none of these survive, on behalf of the decedent's estate.” Your dog is not a person, and a litter of puppies – no matter how cute (or helpless) they are – are not lawful beneficiaries.

Finally, there is one other scenario where you might be able to hold another person liable for damages if your pet is injured or killed, and that is if your veterinarian commits an act of malpractice. In 2017, a New Jersey vet tech told a family that their dog had to be euthanized, but kept the poor animal alive – without the family knowing – for another five months.


What do I do if I was attacked by a dog?

If you were attacked by a dog, seek medical attention immediately – especially if the animal is a stray. There is no cure for rabies once the disease sets in, so you need to be treated with the vaccine as soon as possible. If your dog or pet is attacked, call your vet immediately.

Next, call the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control Office in Phoenix, at 602.506.7387.

Then, call a lawyer. The statute of limitations for dog bites is one year – shorter than other types of negligence claims. If you want to make a claim, you need to do so fast.

At Plattner Verderame, P.C., we understand that the laws regarding pets, and the types of personal injury claims you might be entitled to make if they are hurt, could change at any time. Until they do, we will continue to fight on behalf of our clients who are injured by other people’s companions, work animals and service animals. When the day comes that Rover gets rights, we will support those rights, too.


Experienced representation by the Phoenix lawyers you know and trust

We know you love your “fur babies.” We love ours, too. But we also know that, while the laws remain the same, our priority must remain with protecting and upholding the rights of our clients. If you were bitten by a dog, 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.