Victory for Pet Owners

Victory for Pet Owners
Categorized: Virginia Blogs

Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners, LLC et al. v. Kristine Anderson

Virginia law has traditionally treated pets, no matter how much a part of the family we consider them to be, as personal property. This means that pet owners can recovery for harm to our pets is capped at the measure of damages for personal property – the diminished fair market value of the property.

However, the Court of Appeals of Virginia recently revisited this damage calculation for pets in Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners, LLC v. Anderson. [1] In this case, a pet owner sought damages for injuries caused to her dog while receiving veterinary care from a veterinary practice. Anderson sought reimbursement for the treatment of her dog’s injuries as well as costs for “adequate and necessary rehabilitative care” for the rest of the dog’s life, “including electronic stimulation, shockwave therapy, ultrasound therapy, laser therapy, underwater treadmill, platelet rich plasma therapy, and stem cell therapy.” Id. The vet practice, relying on the well-established measure of damages to personal property, filed a motion to exclude any evidence or suggestion of expenses in excess of $350, the price Anderson paid for her dog. The Virginia Beach Circuit Court denied the motion finding that damages for injury to personal property “typically are confined to the diminution of the value of the property, and any reasonable and necessary expenses incurred.”[2] The trial court determined that veterinary treatments in excess of the fair market value of the dog could be reasonable and necessary expenses and the determination regarding what expenses are reasonable and necessary is for the jury to decide at trial.

Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners, LLC appealed the trial court’s denial of its motion to the Virginia Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling, finding Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners, LLC’s motion “employed an overly mechanistic approach to measuring damages that disregarded the ‘ultimate aim of making good the injury done or loss suffered.’”[3] Thus, the Court of Appeals ruled that Anderson could recover for all expenses that were or will be reasonable and necessarily incurred should the trier of fact find that Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners, LLC was negligent (which had not been yet addressed by the trial court). Even if Anderson prevails before the court on her allegations that the vet practice was negligent in treating her dog, she will still have the burden of proving that the expenses she is seeking are reasonable and necessary.

This is a win for pet owners as it means that the amount of recoverable damages for injuries caused to the pet by another’s negligence are not capped at the amount paid for the animal. Instead, pet owners can seek amounts incurred for expenses that the owner can prove are reasonable and necessary because of a defendant’s negligence.

[1] Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners, LLC v Anderson, 78 Va. App. 40 (2023)

[2] Id.(emphasis in original).

[3] Id.(citing Younger v. Appalachian Power Co., 214 Va. 662, 664 (1974).

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