The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today that the owners of a German Shepherd have to pay the $8,000 veterinary bill incurred by the owners of the tiny bichon frise their pet ripped up in Newton in 2008.
The large-breed owners argued that state law should have limited their liability to the "replacement cost" of the smaller dog, which they said was far less than $8,000.
The court, however, said that common law in Massachusetts has long held that "reasonable" veterinary costs are allowable when blame for the injuries is clear, even if they amount to more than the cost of just putting the injured animal down and buying a new one.
The defendants in this case mount no challenge to the reasonableness of the costs incurred other than to argue that it is unreasonable to spend more to treat a dog than it would cost to replace it. Although the market value of the dog is a factor that may be considered, it alone does not demonstrate that the judge erred in awarding the full veterinary costs. The owner of the emergency veterinary facility, an experienced veterinarian, testified that the attack left the dog in profound hypovolemic shock with wounds to the head, neck, abdomen, and chest. Diagnostic tests showed that the dog "was bleeding quite profusely from the abdomen." Blunt crushing wounds to the dog's chest and abdomen had caused one of the dog's liver lobes to bleed and the lobe needed to be surgically removed. Surgery was performed within an hour of the dog's arrival at the facility, and the dog remained there for a few days after the operation. The rest of the dog's recovery took place at home. It was the veterinarian's opinion that the dog would have died without the treatment it received.
The veterinarian also testified that the facility is a twenty-four-hour emergency specialty practice with pricing that is competitive with that of similar facilities in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The facility's prices are "based on the American Animal Hospital Association pricing guidelines." Because overhead is high, the facility's profit margin is not. The bills were introduced in evidence, and the veterinarian testified that the costs reflected in them were necessary, fair, and reasonable. In short, the judge's finding that the veterinary costs were reasonable was amply supported by the evidence.
The court added that, unlike with spouses and children, pet owners cannot recover any costs for the emotional pain of watching their pet suffer, because pets are considered property.