Court to decide if pet owners can collect on damages

Published On: Aug 02 2013 06:31:00 AM HST

A Frederick County couple is at the center of what's believed to be a first of its kind civil court case in Maryland involving what pet owners can collect on damages if something happens to their pets.

The question before the Maryland Court of Appeals is if pet owners should be able to receive emotional distress damages after their pet is intentionally killed or injured.

On Jan. 9, 2010, police dashcam video shows an incident in which a Frederick County sheriff's deputy went to the home of Sandra Jenkins looking for her son, who failed to appear for a juvenile court case. The video shows a chocolate Lab, Brandy -- with her tail wagging and barking -- approach the deputy.

Moments later, the deputy shot Brandy.

Brandy survived, and the Jenkins sued. In 2012, a jury said the deputy wrongfully and intentionally shot Brandy. The jury awarded Jenkins and her husband, Roger, $200,000 in damages for emotional distress.
It's believed to be the first and largest such award for pet owners in Maryland.

The incident is still tough to talk about for Jenkins.

"We treat them like they're part of the family. They're just four-legged parts of the family," Sandra Jenkins said.

Maryland law allows pet owners only to receive up to $7,500 per pet for reasonable and necessary veterinary expenses to help the animal heal. The law says nothing specific about emotional damages.

Attorney Rebekah Lusk successfully argued Brandy's owners were also victimized by the deputy, who appealed the ruling.

Animal groups try to appeal ruling

But a few weeks ago, nine prominent national and local animal groups, including the American Kennel Club and the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association, wrote a letter to the Court of Appeals, urging the court to reverse the verdict because they said it could set a bad and costly precedent.

"If the Circuit Court's ruling stands and owners can receive emotion-based damages for tortuous injury to a pet, then the costs of other pets' health care, pet products and pet services in Maryland will go up to accommodate this new liability," the letter said.

Lusk said the argument doesn't make sense.

"Unless a doctor is going to pull out a gun and shoot an animal on purpose, this has nothing to do with negligence acts or medical malpractice at all," she said.

Because of the appeal, the Jenkins have not collected the jury's award.

"You wouldn't believe what we've been through with Brandy," Roger Jenkins said.

Meanwhile, they said they've spent thousands of dollars on medications and blood tests to keep Brandy alive.

"Anyone who's an animal lover would not say no one should get emotional damages," Sandra Jenkins said.

Oral arguments on the appeal are set for early next year. 


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