Can You Recover Compensation for Injuries Your Pet Suffered in a Car Accident?

Call (800) 863-5312 for a free consultation with an experienced pet injury lawyer.

Car accidents can have a significant impact on our lives, and also on the lives of our pets if they, too, were involved in the accident. It is difficult enough seeking compensation for our own injuries. However, we do not often consider how to recover for injuries sustained by our pets until the situation arises.

At Zinda Law Group, we believe anyone dealing with an auto accident should have access to an experienced accident attorney who can help them secure maximum compensation—regardless of the circumstances. There are routes to recovering compensation for your injured pet, and our accident lawyers are here to help.

If you are dealing with the aftermath of a car accident in which your pet was injured, call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 for a free case evaluation with one of our pet injury attorneys. Our clients pay nothing unless we win their case.

Pet ownership Statistics

Needless to say, “man’s best friend” is an extremely common pet in the United States. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey for 2019–2020, the number of U.S. households that own a dog totaled to 63.4 million. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the number of dogs kept as pets totaled of 89.7 million.

The North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA) reported that the total premium volume in the U.S. “amounted to $1.99 billion at year-end in 2020.” Notwithstanding, NAPHIA also reports that only “3.45 million pets were insured in North America at the end of 2020 and that pet health insurance has been increasing at an average annual growth rate of 23.4% over the past 5 years.” In other words, though the percentage increases year to year, the vast majority of pets in North America—including dogs—are not covered by pet insurance.

In fact, according to Liberty Mutual, three-quarters of new pet owners opted to forgo pet insurance during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is all the more interesting considering that almost one third of Americans added a pet to the family during the course of the pandemic.

Read More: Insurance Information Institute – Facts + Statistics: Pet Ownership and Insurance

tips for driving with your pet

As pet ownership increases, it is advisable to secure pet insurance. Similarly, if you drive frequently with your pet in the car, consider purchasing added coverage to protect them in the event of an accident. In addition to insurance, safe driving practices can help protect your dog; here are some tips for a safer driving experience:

  • Install a back seat barrier.
  • Use a dog seatbelt or harness.
  • Don’t let your dog hang out the window.
  • Avoid becoming distracted by your dog while driving.

Are pets personal property?

The short answer is, “Yes.” Traditionally, pets have been legally thought of as “personal property,” and this continues to be the baseline approach throughout the country. The Animal Legal Defense Fund explains that “our current legal system differentiates between property (or ‘things’) and legal personhood.” Under this system, a pet dog is not much different any other personal item, such as a couch or cell phone.

But house pets—whether they are dogs, cats, or some other creatures—can hold a special place in our hearts, lives, and homes. For many, they are cherished as part of the family. Over the years, this proximity has led to a greater appreciation for the sentience of dogs and cats—among other animals—and their capacity for both affection and suffering.

To some degree, the law is in a state of flux as it adapts to shifting cultural attitudes regarding the place and status of pets in our society. For example, in recognition of animals’ capacity for suffering, all 50 states have passed felony-level animal cruelty laws. Additionally, from anti-tethering, minimum care, and “hot car” laws prohibiting specific kinds of mistreatment to federal regulations requiring that states plan for the evacuation of household pets during national emergencies if they are to receive federal funding, the law casts an increasingly sympathetic eye on animals vulnerable to human mistreatment or neglect.

Similarly, some states have passed “pet custody” laws that shift away from a strict-property analysis toward ones requiring that the well-being and care of household pets be considered when dividing property in divorce proceedings. Notwithstanding, though the law has shifted significantly over the years in the way of deterring preventable or intentional harm to animals, the traditional “personal property” rule predominates.

Read More: Animal Legal Defense Fund – How Animals Differ from Other Types of “Property” Under the Law

kinds of compensation

There are generally two kinds of recoverable damages in auto-accident cases, economic and non-economic. Economic damages are those that can be reduced to a tangible monetary value, including loss or damage to personal property. Non-economic damages refer to those that cannot be reduced to a monetary value. Among other things, this includes your pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of a loved one (legally referred to as “loss of consortium”).

There exists a third category of damages known as “punitive damages.” This is awarded not as compensation to the plaintiff but as a means of punishing the defendant. Courts are generally reluctant to award punitive damages, but such an award is more likely in cases of extreme recklessness or intentional wrongdoing.

Traditionally, non-economic damages are not available as compensation for loss or damage to personal property, including pets. Because the pet is considered property, it does not have the same rights as their owner. The economic value of the pet is deemed to be either the cost of treating the pet’s injuries by a veterinarian or the cost of “replacing” the animal; while this kind of damage is designed to “make the owner whole” by putting them back their previous economic position, many pet owners would argue that no amount of economic compensation could ever truly make them whole again or replace a lost, beloved pet.  

In determining the economic value of a pet dog, for example, courts may consider the pet’s: age, state of health, and original purchase price. Other special attributes may also affect the replacement value of the pet; for example, if the dog is a service dog or specially trained, their legal replacement value can go up. Similarly, if the dog is of a special pedigree and used for dog breeding or in competitions, this can also raise their replacement value.   

Some courts have strayed from the predominating “economic value” rule by allowing pet owners to recover compensation for emotional distress caused by the loss of a pet due to another’s actions. This is particularly true where the defendant intentionally caused harm to the pet, and the award of damages in such cases may take on a punitive character. Notably, the non-economic damages are calculated based on the emotional distress of the owner and not on the actual suffering of the animal. These cases are few and far between.

Sources of compensation

If you have pet insurance, you should first evaluate the level of coverage it provides in the event of a car accident. Because most people do not have insurance for their pets, you will likely first need to evaluate the level of coverage provided by your car insurance. Most car insurance policies cover property damage to your vehicle, though some also exclude certain kinds of property damage to things within the car at the time of the accident; because pets are legally thought of as property, they may or may not be covered by your car insurance.

Finally, if liability can be established, your third source of potential compensation is the at-fault driver’s insurance. This may also cover veterinary or replacement costs.

As with any auto-accident, you should exercise caution in discussing your case with an insurance company. Insurance companies are not neutral third parties, and your own insurance company is not always your closest ally. Consider speaking with an accident attorney first—once you become a client, your attorney is committed to fight for you.

Remember, any communication you have with an insurance company can be leveraged against you in negotiation. Before speaking to an attorney, do not at any point sign a form or waiver provided by an insurance company or admit fault.

Read More: How to Negotiate with Insurance Companies

Let us help you recover compensation for your pet’s injuries

Though cultural attitudes have evolved over the decades to increasingly acknowledge the special place a family pet may have in our homes and lives, in many ways the law has yet to catch up. At Zinda Law Group, we evaluate each client’s needs and desires on a case-by-case basis as we work to help you to secure maximum compensation.

Furthermore, we believe that no one dealing with the pain of losing a pet or dealing with other results of an auto-accident should lack excellent legal representation, and our car accident lawyers take pride in providing that representation. We are here to help.

So, if you are dealing with the fallout of an auto-accident in which your family cat, dog, or other pet was injured, call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 for a 100% free case evaluation with our experienced car accident attorneys. You will pay nothing unless we win your case. That is our No Win, No Fee Guarantee.

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