Kaufman v. Langhofer (12/22/2009)

January 26, 2010

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That Pet Owners Are Not Entitled to Recover Emotional Distress Damages for the Death of a Pet in Negligence Actions.

In May 2005, Plaintiff David Kaufman took his pet scarlet macaw, Salty, to Dr. William Langhofer and Scottsdale Veterinary Clinic (“Defendants”), for treatment.  Salty died on June 21, 2005, after Dr. Langhofer performed two operations.  Kaufman sued Defendants on multiple theories, including professional negligence, and sought special damages, including emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of companionship.  Defendants moved to dismiss these emotional distress damage claims.  The Court granted the motion, but allowed Kaufman to seek special damages for Salty’s fair market value.  A jury found Defendants 30% at fault for Salty’s death, but awarded Kaufman no damages because Salty had no market value due to an unrelated cardiac disease.  Kaufman timely appealed.  

The Arizona Appeals Court affirmed.  The Court held that Arizona, like the majority of jurisdictions in the United States, classifies pets as personal property and limits recovery for negligent injury to or death of a pet to the animal’s fair market value.  The Court explained that although some Arizona cases allow property owners to recover emotional distress damages when their property is negligently damaged, those cases involve tortious conduct directly harming the plaintiff and affecting or burdening a personal, as opposed to an economic or other interest belonging to the plaintiff.  In this case, Defendants’ negligence did not directly harm Kaufman because it did not affect or burden a personal right or interest belonging to him. 

The Court rejected Kaufman’s request that it expand Arizona common law to allow recovery of emotional distress damages for pets, similar to a loss of consortium theory, explaining that such an expansion would inappropriately offer pet owners broader compensation for the loss of a pet than is currently available for the loss of human friends, siblings, and non-nuclear family members.  The Court also rejected Kaufman’s argument that he was entitled to “value to owner” damages because he waived this damage theory below by failing to pursue it at trial.

Presiding Judge Norris authored the opinion; Judges Weisberg and Downie concurred.