The law values your pet as if it were property, not human

Raining cats and dogsI need to write a blog for pet owners and how to value their pets. I’m guessing it won’t be popular and many will draw the conclusion I don’t understand the law, because after all if they love their pet so must the Iowa Supreme Court. Here today is a Q&A about just such a valuation. See what you think.

Question: Do I have a legal claim as a pet owner when a pet swallows a piece of a cheaply made toy and surgery is required?

Question Detail: My pet swallowed a piece of a toy, which broke off and nearly died because at first we thought he had a tummy ache. As the condition worsened, we had to take him to the emergency room and there x-rays were taken. He was in such a state by then that he had to have emergency surgery. Total cost to this point is around $1800. We have proof of what toy it came from, we have the item, which was stuck and the medical information too. We want to stress that these types of cheaply made products shouldn't be produced without proper testing for quality. A simple disclaimer on the packaging shouldn't absolve responsibility.

Answer: I start off answering this question, pointing out that the law considers pets’ to be merely property. The owners’ love and affection adds nothing of value to the case. Pets may be loved by their owners, but are not human and have no special standing under the general tort laws. From my knowledge of 30+ years of practicing personal injury law I've never heard of a case that values pets like humans although they may exist. Of course I've met some humans who should probably be valued as we do pets, but never have I read a case that values pets as if it were a human.

Now before you get angry and start a campaign to recall Justice Wiggins, consider what your dog does all day long. I know, some of it is kind of gross...

As for this person posing the question, you could probably sue in small claims court in Iowa, but the legal theory isn't clear and it would take time for a lawyer to consider your options. Although I'm not sure, I doubt the FDA regulates pet toys and the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations are also doubtful.

While you may feel this is wrong, not every wrong has a remedy, especially when it comes to pets, rather than humans. Society can't regulate every aspect of the human existence. This may be one of them.

Steve Lombardi
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Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death
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