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While acknowledging the bond between a pet and owner, a state appeals court in Florida has refused to allow Robert Bruns Kennedy to sue his basset hound’s veterinarian for emotional damages. A dog may feel like family, but Florida law classifies canines as personal property, not kin, Chief Judge James R. Wolf wrote for the Tallahassee-based 1st District Court of Appeal in Kennedy v. Byas, d.b.a. Agape Animal Hospital. Kennedy is limited to recovering $50 for the vet bill and $350 for the value of his furry friend, Fred, who died during treatment. The ruling conflicts with two 3rd District Court of Appeal decisions that hold otherwise. In 1992, the 3rd DCA in Miami held in Johnson v. Wander that a jury should decide whether an owner is entitled to emotional damages. And in 1978, the 3rd DCA had ruled in Knowles Animal Hospital Inc. v. Wills that a dog owner could recover damages for pain and suffering. But Wolf said Florida’s Impact Rule precludes any recovery of emotional damages for an injury caused by negligence or malpractice. Under the Impact Rule, a person must suffer direct physical injury in order to recover damages for emotional distress, although the Florida Supreme Court has carved out several exceptions over the years. Wolf declined to use this case to expand the rule further, cautioning that doing so would clutter “the ever burgeoning caseload of courts in resolving serious tort claims for individuals.” In the decision, Wolf noted a related Florida Supreme Court case, La Porte v. Associated Indeps. Inc., in which the high court ruled that a person could be held liable for maliciously killing a dog. In La Porte, a garbage collector threw a trash can at Phyllis La Porte’s miniature dachshund, Heidi, who was tied up in the yard. He left laughing. Later, Heidi died. “We feel that the affection of a master for his dog is a very real thing and that the malicious destruction of the pet provides an element of damage for which the owner should recover,” Justice Elwyn Thomas wrote in La Porte. But Judge Wolf differentiated the panel’s holding in Kennedy from La Porte, saying that Fred was allegedly killed because of negligence and not malicious intent. The judges also denied Kennedy’s petition to quash an order transferring his veterinary malpractice lawsuit against the vet, Albert Byas, to county court from circuit court.

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