More than ever, individuals value their furry and winged friends as family members. Despite this fact, Maryland law considers these critters chattel and dramatically limits the recovery for any type of tortious injury.
Md. Cts. and Jud. Proc. §11-110 provides that a pet means any domesticated animal but excludes livestock from the definition. It further provides that in the case of the death of the pet, the fair market value of the pet before the death and the reasonable and necessary veterinary care costs may be recovered, but only up to $7,500. Moreover, the fair market value of the pet does not mean the replacement value. For example, the fair market value of a 13-year-old poodle would not be the cost of a puppy, rather the value of 13-year-old poodle. Obviously, this type of damage is difficult to assess. Additionally, if death does not occur, the reasonable and necessary cost of veterinary care may be recovered, but may not exceed $7,500.
This Rule was recently challenged in the sympathetic case of Rodney Price v. Michael Reeves, No. 68, September Term, 2019, Anne Arundel County. In this case, an Anne Arundel County police officer, Rodney Price, fatally shot the family dog while carrying out his duties as a police officer. The officer stated that he had a good faith belief that the dog was about to attack him. The officer and the county were sued for trespass to chattel, gross negligence and a violation of Mr. Reeve’s constitutional rights. The plaintiff received a judgment of $10,000 for the trespass chattel, $500,000 in economic damage and $750,000 in noneconomic damages. The Circuit Court then reduced the gross negligence number to $200,000 pursuant to the Local Government Tort Claims Act. The circuit court further reduced the trespass chattel damages to $7,500.
On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed in part and upheld in part an unreported opinion that the CJP §11-110 did not bar Mr. Reeves from recovering noneconomic damages related to the death of the dog. The Court of Appeals, however, followed the statute and limited the recovery for compensatory damages to the amount of the statute and nullified any recovery for noneconomic compensatory damages. This holding reduced Plaintiff’s total award to $7,500. Plaintiff attempted to argue that the familial bond between pet owners and their pets rendered a judgment for noneconomic damage appropriate. Finally, the Reeves’ court suggested that if CJP §11-110 required revision to provide for the emotional bond between pet and pet owner, this must be done by the legislature and not the court.
Though the courts have chosen to limit the recovery of damage to a domestic animal to that specifically provided in the statute, in light of the bond between pet owner and owners, it is likely that this will be addressed again through legislative action.