Family Sued After Dog Death Wins $56,400

An Oregon family seeking more than $1 million from a neighbor who ran over their dog was awarded $56,400 by a jury on Wednesday. Raymond Weaver must pay Mark Greenup and his family $50,000 in punitive damages, $6,000 to compensate for their emotional distress and $400 for the value of their 14-year-old dog, Grizz.

The family has sued for $1.6 million, asking the jury to award them compensation for the loss of the companionship of their pet. This was seen as a landmark case that could redefine the legal value of pets. In US law, loss of companionship is a claim typically reserved for human relationships so legal experts are closely watching the case. They say if the family wins the lawsuit and any subsequent appeals, it could help break the long-standing tradition of defining pets as property.

A number of courts have previously said that they do recognize that there can be a strong bond with people and their animals, but have stopped short and concluded that pets are indeed property. The difference in layman’s terms is that in this respect a human can suffer no more grief after the loss of a pet than they could their TV or DVD player. But if courts change the way they regard the status of pets, the recognition that humans can suffer greatly after the loss of a pet would manifest itself in much higher claims.

In this case, Grizz, a cocker spaniel and Labrador retriever mix, was run over by Raymond Weaver in 2004 and had to be put down. Weaver’s attorney said the incident was an accident. But Mr Greenup and his family say Weaver drove over Grizz several times and did not stop when they called out to him or when they tried to drag the dog out from under the truck. Interestingly, a county court convicted Weaver of animal abuse and reckless endangerment of another person last year in the criminal case.

In such lawsuits, pet owners are typically compensated for the value of the animal and specific expenses such as veterinary care. Geordie Duckler, the attorney for the Greenup family, said he is confident he can persuade the jury that the relationship merits further value and open the door for other wronged pet owners. The judge could still decide to dismiss the claim, but the fact that it has moved this far suggests the law is moving in the right direction.

Clackamas County Judge Eve Miller threw out the loss of companionship claim but allowed the jury to decide if the family should be paid for punitive damages and intentional infliction of emotional stress. Miller ruled that loss of animal companionship was not "a viable theory under Oregon law." The decision was consistent with the legal tradition of defining pets as property and measuring their economic worth by market, rather than emotional, value.

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