Last week we received news of a favorable ruling on the noneconomic damages case that has been pending in Maryland’s highest court for some time. The court also mentioned the joint brief filed by the AVMA and MDVMA. This case was to consider and address the scope of compensatory damages available in the case of the tortious injury or death of a pet.
Maryland statute (Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. (“CJP”) § 11-110) allows pet owners to recover specific capped economic damages for the death or injury of their pet as a result of a tort. The specific economic damages allowed are the fair market value of the pet and the reasonable and necessary cost of veterinary care if the animal is killed. If the animal is injured the allowed damages are for reasonable and necessary veterinary care. At the time of the incident in this litigation, the cap was $7,500. The legislature has since increased it to $10,000.
It was argued that this section of law only applied to economic compensatory damages and did not apply to other potential damages, such as non-economic damages. The court found that “It would also be illogical for CJP § 11-110 to apply a cap solely on damages related to fair market value and reasonable and necessary veterinary expenses while allowing pet owners to recover an unlimited amount of other compensatory damages for their emotional loss.” The majority indicated that the legislature is best suited to weighing the various competing policy interests, noting that the AVMA and MDVMA brief pointed out that awards of non-economic damages would increase the cost of veterinary care and pet owners might not be able to afford these necessary products and services. However, the court also wrote that “The Legislature may wish to amend CJP § 11-110 in response to the various policy arguments, in this case, to allow for other forms of compensatory damages in cases involving the tortious injury or death of pets.”
In conclusion, the court found that CJP § 11-110 clearly defines compensatory damages and non-economic damages are not available for the death or injury of a pet as a result of a tort and caps the amount received in damages. It does not permit for the recovery of other forms of compensatory damages not expressly included within the statute. The case was decided with a 6-1 majority.