I am seeking a little legal advice for the tragedy that happened with my dog.
My wife, 2 days ago, was walking our maltese in leash 50 feets away from our house on the sidewalk.
A young lady was walking a big dog in a leash also ( the dog's owners are in Australia till June 2012 ) .
My wife tried to avoid the big dog by going on the grass lawn with our maltese. When the big dog was near them he escaped from the leash and attacked our maltese. The attack was so aggresive and brutal. Our maltese died 30 min later in my wife arms at the emergency vet clinic. We are in emotional distress. It is a huge loss.
Could you tell me what I should do? Seek legal action or speak first with the owners ?
I tried to contact the owners by email. I am waiting them to call me.
I am very sorry for your loss. I'm sure it was very traumatic.
You should file a report with animal control as well as speaking with the owners of the dog. Depending on who the young lady is (is she a friend, a professional dog walker, etc) and how old she is, you may have a claim against her as well against the dog's owners.
Although California is generally more permissive for "damages" in pet cases, your compensation will likely be the cost of the dog (not what you think he was worth) and any vet bills. Only under truly exceptional circumstances would any compensation for things like emotional distress or pain and suffering be allowed. This may not seem fair to you, but that is the law.
You should send a letter to the dog's owners, with delivery confirmation, asking them to compensate you for the dog and any vet bills. If they refuse to pay, then you can consider litigation. You may want to speak with a local attorney for further guidance. The State Bar of California can give you a referral: www.calbar.ca.gov
To Attorney McFarland-Taylor's advice, I would simply add that all costs related to the attack should be documented, up to and including disposition of your pet's body. If you purchased your dog from a breeder, you will want the purchase price to show (relative) replacement cost. I have also included ALL vet costs to show the owner's investment in the pet.
You will want to get, if you did not keep, a copy of the report you made to the police and animal control, the response(s), if any, and the police log for the day of the attack.
As was noted, the demand letter should be sent when all costs are known and included, and that letter should be sent by Certified Mail/Return Receipt. Potential defendants are the woman actually walking the dog and the dog's owners.
This sort of case is generally in small claims; however, you may wish counsel. The state and county bar associations can give you referrals; they may also have "Dial a Lawyer" or "Lawyer of the Day" programs that could help you.
Unfortunately, the courts currently hold that a pet is "property," therefore, you may not recover more than the actual value of the pet. However, a fairly recent CA appellate ruling pointed to California Civil Code section 3340(f), which allows for “exemplary damages,” in any case involving “wrongful injuries to animals . . committed willfully or by gross negligence, in disregard of humanity.” In other words, if you can find that the other party was grossly negligent, you can sue to punish them as well as for the value of the animal. This is an area of the law that I personally feel is wrong and that pets are more akin to family members than personal property.
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