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In what he calls “the fight of his life,” an Oregon attorney says that he’s not giving up on trying to establish a new tort that will allow pet owners to sue over loss of companionship. A judge last week threw out the attorney’s loss-of-companionship claim in a pet death case, holding that the claim was not a viable theory under Oregon law. Attorney Geordie Duckler, who is pursuing the case on other grounds, said his tort battle is far from over. “I’m disappointed,” Duckler said. “But I’m not stopping at this stage with this tort. All common law torts have their infancy. This is a difficult delivery process.” Duckler of the Animal Law Practice in Portland, Ore., said he’ll either argue the loss-of-companionship claim on appeal, or in the next pet case he gets. Duckler is representing an Oregon couple that had to euthanize their 14-year-old lab mix after a neighbor allegedly purposely ran him over. The neighbor was convicted of animal abuse last year. The couple is seeking $1.625 million, claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress and loss of companionship. While the latter claim was dismissed, the judge allowed the jury to decide punitive damages and the emotional stress claim. Greenup v. Weaver, No. CV 04-12-0778 (Clackamas Co., Ore., Cir. Ct.). TVs, handbags & pets Meanwhile, Duckler argues that the relationship between owners and their pets has an intrinsic value, and that owners are entitled to compensation should someone intentionally hurt their pets. “Right now, dogs are lumped in with TVs, handbags, hamburgers. Legally, no one has made that division between animate personal properties and inanimate personal properties,” said Duckler. He said he hopes to give new legal status to household pets, which have traditionally been defined as property with a standard market value. “Once someone tries to intentionally hurt the dog, it isn’t enough to say, ‘Here, I’ll give you the value of the dog,’ ” Duckler said. “ What you really want is to recover for the time that’s been lost.” Larry Dawson, attorney for the defendant, Raymond Weaver, was unavailable for comment. Currently, only two states, Tennessee and Illinois, have laws that give pet owners the right to pain and suffering damages, as well as punitive damages, for abuse or neglect to their pets. In recent years, several states, including Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, have considered similar measures. Torts expert Victor Schwartz, who runs the public policy group at Kansas City, Mo.-based Shook, Hardy & Bacon from its Washington office noted that companionship claims are reserved only for spouses and parents who lose children, not pets. Schwartz also warns that a loss of companionship tort could open the floodgates to litigation in the field of animal care, with everyone from vets to boarders worried about getting sued. “If this type of damage is allowed more generally, it will bring about very adverse consequences,” Schwartz said. But solo Chicago attorney Amy Beyer, who mostly handles animal law cases, disagreed. She claims that changes in how the courts value pets and their relationship to humans is long overdue, “Historically, courts have undervalued, if not completely unvalued, the lives of anybody who isn’t human,” said Beyer, who is rooting for Duckler. “I hope he makes some headway because most days I feel I’m just banging my head up against the wall trying to make some progress,” Beyer said. “Courts are very reluctant to do anything that a previous court hasn’t done.”

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