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Home > Dogs and the Law > Veterinary Malpractice: Suing a Veterinarian for Emotional Distress in Florida

Veterinary Malpractice: Suing a Veterinarian for Emotional Distress in Florida

Under Florida law, dogs and other pets are considered personal property.  This means that, in general, when a veterinarian negligently causes the death of your dog, you may recover the replacement value of the dog.  If veterinary malpractice causes injury to your pet, you may recover expenses related to reasonable medical costs.

Are Pets Mere Personal Property?

Veterinary Malpractice in Florida

But pet owners know that pets are more than mere property.  As pet owners, we know that our dogs and cats are not fungible in nature, like pencils, for instance.  We mourn the loss of a beloved animal companion similar to the loss of a friend or family member.  Pet owners have bonds with their animals that they don’t have with inanimate objects.

Nevertheless, in Florida, as in most other states, our animal companions are treated under the law much the same as the law treats inanimate objects:  as property.  Therefore, under most circumstances, a dog owner who loses his or her pet through negligent veterinary malpractice in Florida will not be compensated for emotional damages (pain and suffering).

Emotional Damages for Veterinary Malpractice:  Florida’s “Impact Rule”

The reason most dog owners will not be compensated for their emotional distress in cases of veterinary malpractice has to do with Florida’s “impact rule.”  Under Florida’s impact rule, a person claiming negligent infliction of emotional distress must demonstrate that the emotional distress he or she suffered came about because of some type of physical impact with the plaintiff. 

Florida courts make an exception to the impact rule when the psychological trauma and mental distress the plaintiff experiences are the result of seeing or otherwise directly perceiving a close family member get injured by someone’s negligence.  Nevertheless, pets are not considered family members under the law; they are considered personal property.  Therefore, this exception to the impact rule will not assist animal owners.

Intentional Infliction of Injury to the Pet

Intentional infliction of injury to someone’s pet is a different story.  In at least one decision in Florida, the court held that when someone intentionally injures or kills an animal, there is no need to prove a physical impact on the plaintiff. 

But the intentional infliction of emotional distress still requires a malicious intent to cause severe emotional distress.  The intent involved is more than just the intent to cause the death of the animal; it is the specific intent to cause extreme emotional distress to the animal owner.

In the 1964 case of La Porte v. Associated Indeps., Inc., the Florida Supreme Court stated, “Without discussing the affinity between ‘sentimental value and mental suffering’ we feel that the affection of a master for his dog is a very real thing and that the malicious destruction of the pet provides an element of damage for which the owner should recover.”

Veterinary Malpractice in Florida

Florida, like most other states, treats pets as personal property.  Because pets are personal property, compensation for veterinary malpractice is tied to the market value of the animal for replacement or the reasonable cost of medical treatment for an injury. 

Compensation for negligent infliction of emotion distress on the pet owner is not permitted due to Florida’s impact rule.  Compensation for intentional infliction of emotional distress will be allowed only with proof that the veterinarian specifically acted with malicious intent to inflict severe emotional distress on the pet owner.

Sources:  Bennett v. Bennett, 655 So. 2d 109 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995)(holding that pets are personal property under Florida law); Kennedy v. Byas, 867 So. 2d 1195 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004)(ruling that Florida’s “impact rule” prevents recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress in veterinary malpractice cases without proof of physical impact on the plaintiff pet owner); La Porte v. Associated Indeps., Inc., 867 So. 2d 1195 (Fla. 1964).

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Categories: Dogs and the Law
  1. Marky
    April 22nd, 2011 at 21:04 | #1

    These Lawyers just want more $$$$. I can’t sue for emotional pain and suffering if my best friend dies from “negligence” or even my partner, cousin or grandmother. Suing for a pet makes no sense at all…but maybe this is what America is becomming, a country of nonsense.

  2. July 17th, 2011 at 18:08 | #2

    And I thought I was the sensible one. Thanks for snettig me straight.

  3. American
    August 29th, 2011 at 17:51 | #3

    What a bs law. Personal property on life? Vets get paid to keep OUR pets safe and healthy yet they’re permitted to practice on them without accountability while making a nice living for themselves? What a crock! We the american people should not sit down for that!

  4. January 4th, 2012 at 11:54 | #4

    Until this has happened to your family you should probably keep your comments to yourself. Veterinarians charges are comparible to doctors and therefore should be held to the same consequences.A life is a life.

  5. loonysebec
    May 4th, 2012 at 18:19 | #5

    I agree. My dog was recently killed b/c of the negligence of the vet we took him too. This BS law has made my suffering even more. He was my friend and stood by my side through 2 deployments and now he was taken from me b/c the vet administered a vaccine I didn’t authorize and he was allergic to it. @RASCAL

  6. September 13th, 2013 at 23:22 | #6

    These vets are something else. They cry human /animal bond until they get sued and then it is property. They want it both ways.
    Simba
    http://www.justiceforsimba.com

  7. Charles M. Baron, Esq.
    December 12th, 2013 at 12:54 | #7

    Your article is not entirely correct. Because of precedent in the Florida Third District Court of Appeal (jurisdiction over Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties), you MAY sue for emotional distress damages caused by veterinay malpractice injuring a pet under certain circumstances. See Johnson v. Wander, 592 So.2d 1225 (Fla. 3d DCA 1992); Knowles Animal Hospital, Inc. v. Willis, 360 So.2d 37 (Fla. 3d DCA 1978). The impact rule did not apply in these cases. The First DCA (Tallahassee) disagreed in the Kennedy v. Byas case that you cite. Therefore, your article is correct only for Floridians in the 1st DCA (panhandle) area. In Miami and the Keys, Kennedy v. Byas DOES NOT APPLY. In the rest of Fla., you may attempt to sue for emotional distress damages, and it would be up to the Court to decide which of the conflicting case law to apply.

    Attorney Charles M. Baron, Miami (305)933-9292

  8. Charles M. Baron, Esq.
    December 12th, 2013 at 12:58 | #8

    Your article is not entirely correct. Because of precedent in the Florida Third District Court of Appeal (jurisdiction over Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties), you MAY sue for emotional distress damages caused by veterinary malpractice injuring a pet under certain circumstances. See Johnson v. Wander, 592 So.2d 1225 (Fla. 3d DCA 1992); Knowles Animal Hospital, Inc. v. Willis, 360 So.2d 37 (Fla. 3d DCA 1978). The impact rule did not apply in these cases. The First DCA (Tallahassee) disagreed in the Kennedy v. Byas case that you cite. Therefore, your article is correct only for Floridians in the 1st DCA (panhandle) area. In Miami and the Keys, Kennedy v. Byas DOES NOT APPLY. In the rest of Fla., you may attempt to sue for emotional distress damages, and it would be up to the Court to decide which of the conflicting case law to apply.

    Attorney Charles M. Baron, Miami (305)933-9292

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  11. paul katts
    April 15th, 2014 at 07:15 | #11

    Veterinary Malpractice in Florida

    Florida, like most other states, treats pets as personal property. Because pets are personal property, compensation for veterinary malpractice is tied to the market value of the animal for replacement or the reasonable cost of medical treatment for an injury.
    THEY SHOULD HAVE PEOPLE MAKE THE LAW FROM PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY LOVE THEIR PETS…

  12. Marisol
    April 21st, 2014 at 19:52 | #12

    @Marky
    Marky,

    You obviously don’t have a pet of any sort! My dog just died a few days ago due to vet error and it might of just been my child. I am devastated. Too bad for this stupid law but I am going after the vet for everything I can get. You have no idea what you are talking about. Shame on you for being so heartless!!!

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