In 2012 a case called Brooks v. Jenkins changed the scene for how Courts treat pets in Maryland. In this case two police officers entered a couple’s property in order to arrest their son. One of these police officers felt it necessary to shoot the family dog, Brandi, right before the couples’ eyes in order to clear danger. Well, a jury watching video of Brandi approaching the police officer, slowly and with tail wagging, decided differently. (The camera just happened to be rolling in his police car.)
Now I’ve been hearing a lot of heavy statements going around about this case on social media and in news articles, with headlines like: “Family awarded $620,000 in pain and suffering after dog was shot by police.” That statement is true, but taken out of context can cause a lot of confusion, so I figured I should do the only logical thing and read the case. It’s a long one, so to make this a little easier for everyone, I made a list of what the court DID and DID NOT decide. And if you’re a glutton for punishment, or just a nerd like me, you can read the whole case here … http://www.mdcourts.gov/opinions/cosa/2014/1499s12.pdf
Let’s start with …
What was NOT decided.
- The Court did NOT decide that pets can receive non-economic damages. Pain and suffering damages were awarded to the dog’s owners. You and/or your pet still can’t recover damages for your pet’s pain and suffering.
- The Court did NOT say that pets in Maryland now have “personhood”. Pets are still considered “chattel”, or possessions. The Court just took a roundabout way to say that pets are very, very important possessions. (Just a note here, if a pet were given “personhood” legally, this does not mean they would be considered people. That’s a confusion that a lot of people have. It would just mean they could assert some rights. In some countries even bridges and lakes have “personhood”.)
- The jury did NOT award $620,000 in pain and suffering to the owners of Brandi. That was the overall amount awarded by the jury, but there were numerous issues to which the jury awarded damages, and the majority of those damages were awarded for illegal entry into the Jenkins’ home.
- The Court did NOT make it clear how pain and suffering damages will now be dealt with outside of the context of constitutional claims against government actors.
What WAS decided.
- The Court DID say that the facts were sufficient for a jury to find that Brooks was grossly negligent in shooting Brandi, and therefore not acting in the scope of his employment. This is important because it means that just because a police officer has a warrant to search your property, and just because your animals are considered chattel, doesn’t mean a police officer can shoot your animal simply because he wants to, or because it MIGHT have the propensity for violence.
- The Court DID affirm that the jury could award pain and suffering damages to Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins for emotional distress they each experienced when Brandi was shot. The Court basically acknowledged that pets are important to their human families. They said the statute limiting economic damages for injury to a pet to $7,500 (i.e. vet bills and the fair market value of your pet), does NOT limit compensation for violation of your constitutional rights.
- The jury DID award $200,000 in pain and suffering damages to the owners of Brandi, at $100,000 each, and the appellate court found that amount reasonable. They were also awarded the $7,500 cap for economic damages.
So, this case does change the direction of animal law in Maryland. Your loss of an animal friend, and the value of that pet’s life to you is respected by Maryland Courts. The value of a pet’s life to itself, is another story entirely.
Samantha Manganaro, Esq.