A six person jury has awarded the family of Cowboy, a dog, $14,000 for Miami Dade County Animal Services’ negligence in euthanizing the animal. In 2005 MDAS impounded Cowboy found wandering loose. Cowboy’s family, Anays Rodiguez-Porras and Ricardo Porras and their 5 small children, were looking for him, however.
When they first contacted the shelter, they were told Cowboy was not there, but the dog was, in fact, there. Ricardo Porras then went to the shelter to find the dog and was informed the dog was there, but that he could not take him home unless he presented a notarized affidavit indicating he had his wife’s permission to pick up the dog. Anays was listed as the owner of record. Ricardo returned then to pick up the dog, but the staff said they could not find the dog. Anays came the following day to pick up Cowboy. She was told the dog had been euthanized.
Cowboy was micro-chipped but did not have on a collar. Regardless, MDAS failed even to scan for a micro-chip for 3 days.
A nightmare for the Porras family. Rodrigues-Porras told the jury the dog had accidentally gotten out of the house, that he was afraid of some stormy weather. She explained Cowboy was only about a block from home when he was picked up and impounded by MDAS.
Because the jury found MDAS liable for negligence and not gross negligence, the family cannot collect $12,000 of the verdict awarded for emotional distress. Of the remaining $2,000 for compensatory damages which represent the market value of the dog, 43% or $860 is recoverable. That is because the jury found the Rodriguez-Porras family 57% responsible.
Still a strong warning to animal shelters: Stop the killing and start looking for families.
Circuit Judge Valerie Manno Schurr was the presiding judge.
Florida law has long recognized that damages for emotional suffering as the result of death or injury to a pet are recoverable if as a result of conduct that was malicious or showed an extreme disregard for the rights of others. La Porte v. Associated Independents, Inc., 163 So. 2nd 267, 268 (Fl. 1964) At least one appeals court, the Third District where Miami Dade County is located, has recognized a pet owner may recover for mental suffering as a result of "gross negligence". Knowles Animal Hospital, Inc. v. Wills, 360 So. 2d 37, 38-39 (Fl. 1978)
For more information on the recovery of damages for emotional suffering as the result of death or injury to animals, read Punitive Damage Awards in Pet Death Cases: How do the Ratio Rules of State Farm v. Campbell Apply?, by Prof. William A. Reppy, Jr.; Harming Companion Animals: Liability and Damages, by Prof. Henry Mark Holzer; and Determining The Value Of Companion Animals In Wrongful Harm Or Death Claims: A Survey Of U.S. Decisions And An Argument For The Authorization To Recover For Loss Of Companionship In Such Cases, by Marcella S. Roukas