Watching a pet die can be a devastating experience, but does it legally qualify as emotional distress? New Jersey recently joined a number of other states in ruling that these emotional distress claims are strictly limited to human relationships.
“Although we recognize that many people form close bonds with their pets, we conclude that those bonds do not rise to the level of close familial relationship or intimate, marital-type bond,” the Supreme Court held in McDougall v. Lamm.
The facts of the case are disturbing for any pet owner. Plaintiff Joyce McDougall was walking her maltipoo, Angel, when a large dog belonging to defendant Charlot Lamm ran out and grabbed McDougall’s dog by the neck. The larger dog picked up Angel and shook it several times before dropping it. Angel ultimately died. In her lawsuit, McDougall alleged that, as a result of witnessing the dog’s death, she suffered significant emotional distress for which she should be entitled to damages.
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