Joyce was having a rough couple years. After getting separated from her husband and sending her children off to college, she didn’t have too much left. The only thing that kept her from feeling lonely was her beloved dog, a maltipoo (a cross between a maltese and a poodle). Affectionately named “Angel,” this canine companion kept Joyce company, greeted her when she came home, and performed a host of tricks. Joyce loved Angel deeply, and she even set up a doggie bed right next to hers, so they would never be apart.
One fateful afternoon, Joyce ventured out to give her dog a walk. Little did she know that this would be Angel’s last one. A ferocious, snarling mutt appeared out of nowhere and ripped its teeth into little Angel. Snatching the tiny dog by the neck, the hound shook Angel violently. Joyce tried to get help, but she was too late. Angel had gone to dog heaven.
Distraught, Joyce sued the owner of the dog that killed Angel, claiming that witnessing the brutal death had inflicted severe emotional distress upon her. In New Jersey, if someone sees the wrongful death of a close (human) family member, he or she can sometimes recover damages for the emotional distress suffered.
Tragic as Joyce’s story was, the trial judge denied her claim for emotional harm. Joyce appealed the case all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Alas, the Supreme Court agreed with the trial judge, and tossed out her case. The Supremes conceded that pets are sometimes treated as more than mere property under New Jersey law. Many people consider them as family. But on the specific issue of emotional distress compensation, the court drew the line at human beings.
Put differently, you could say that the judges ruled that Joyce was simply barking up the wrong tree.
Marc S. Berman is an attorney with offices in Fair Lawn and Paramus. You can follow him on Twitter here. Disclaimer: The articles posted here are for informational purposes only, and are not intended as legal advice for specific cases. Readers should not act, or refrain from acting, based upon any information presented here, but rather should retain an attorney to advise them.