New Jersey Court Rules Watching Your Dog Die Doesn't Qualify As Emotional Distress

This Maltese-poodle mix is not Angel

Photo: generalantilles/Flickr

The New Jersey Supreme Court rejected Tuesday a woman’s claims she suffered emotional distress after watching a large dog maul her Maltese-poodle mix to death in 2007.Joyce McDougall initially sued the big dog’s owners for negligence and emotional distress following her dog Angel’s death, The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog reported Tuesday. 

A lower New Jersey court agreed with the negligence claim and awarded McDougall $5,000 to make up for the loss of a well-trained pet, as well as to compensate her for the cost of buying a new dog.

But the trial court, appellate court, and state supreme court rejected the notion she could recover damages for emotional distress following Angel’s death.

In its ruling, posted by Law Blog, New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Helen Hoens said the court doesn’t doubt McDougall “was attached to her dog and that she had strong emotional ties to it.”

However, emotional distress damages need to be restricted to people with whom one has a close, intimate relationship, meaning the court “cannot permit recovery for watching the death of a non-human,” according to the ruling. 

But here’s the money quote from the ruling: “It would make little sense, we think, to permit plaintiff to recover for her emotional distress over the loss of her dog when she would be precluded from any such recovery if she instead had the misfortune of watching the neighbour’s child, whom she regarded as her own, torn apart by a wild animal.”

Currently Illinois and Tennessee allow pet owners to recoup damages for emotional distress and courts in Florida, Hawaii, and Louisiana have recognised that people can sue for emotional distress over the death of a pet, according to Law Blog.

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