People today love their pets. Billions of dollars a year are being spent on our dogs and cats. In some cases, a person’s love for their pet is sometimes greater than their love for other people. After all, a pet is loyal, comforting and extremely lovable. It never causes grief except for an accident on the rug here and there.
Recently I was involved in a case where my client owned a small dog for approximately 9 years. She was taking it for a walk one day when a large dog from an adjacent property got loose and attacked it. It shook it violently in its mouth causing a fracture to its spinal cord. My client took her dog to the vet who stated that there was an 80% chance the dog would survive with surgery. Without hesitation, my client paid the $ 17,000.00 for the surgery. Unfortunately, there were complications and the dog had to be put down.
The insurance company that insured the owner of the large dog took the position initially that the vet bills were unreasonable in light of the value of the dog. Their analysis was similar to that made when an automobile is totaled in an accident. That is, you get the cost to repair or the fair market value at the time of the accident, whichever is lower. The insurance company’s position was the dog was worth approximately $500.00 to replace and the vet bills were far in excess of its value. Animals are considered personal property under California Law.
I argued to the insurance company that unlike an automobile, a loving pet has much more value to its owner. In order to determine what are reasonable expenditures, we need to look at all of the circumstances including the age of the dog, the closeness of relationship and the likelihood of a dog surviving. My client lived alone with this dog. The dog was otherwise healthy and had at least another 4 to 5 years of life expectancy if not longer. Their relationship was extremely close and they did everything together. Furthermore, and most importantly, my client was advised by the veterinarian that there was an 80 % likelihood the dog would survive. Based on these facts, I argued that it would be unreasonable not to spend the money to save its life. The insurance company finally agreed and paid the full amount of veterinarian bills. There seems to be a willingness by insurance companies to get away from the fair market value analysis as previously discussed. It also helps to work with an insurance adjuster that loved animals.
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