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Maryland Law Says Your Cherished Pet is Worth $10,000 – That’s It!

Maryland Law Says Your Cherished Pet is Worth $10,000 – That’s It!

Maryland law includes this provision wich does not apply to livestock. “A person who tortiously causes an injury to or death of a pet while acting individually or through an animal under the person’s ownership, direction, or control is liable to the owner of the pet for compensatory damages…. The damages awarded under paragraph (1) of this subsection may not exceed $10,000.

Today, the Maryland Court of Appeals (Maryland’s highest court) filed a decision effectively saying $10,000 is the maximum except in two rare situations.

The dog who tragically died was Vern – a Chesapeake Bay retriever.

In February 2014 (at that time the statute was $7,500) an Anne Arundel County police office was going door to door in a residential neighborhood trying to get info about a multiple burglaries. “At approximately 4:45 p.m., Officer Price approached Mr. Reeves’ residence from the house next door. He saw a light on inside and noticed that some of the windows were open. He also observed two doors at the front entrance to the house. One door was open; a second door, at trial variously described as a screen door and a transparent storm door, was closed. Officer Price determined from those indicators that the house was occupied at the time. He testified that he had no reason to believe that any member of the Reeves family had any involvement with the burglaries and he did not have any “cause for concern” as he approached the house.

Officer Price walked onto the front porch of Mr. Reeves’ home and knocked on the closed door. When no one answered, he left the porch and headed towards Mr. Reeves’ driveway, where he stood with his back to the house. As he was taking notes in his notepad, Officer Price heard the sound of a door behind him. He turned around and saw a dog “coming at” him from about five feet away. According to Officer Price, the dog was growling and barked once.

Officer Price testified that he put his left forearm up at “roughly” the level of his neck as the dog approached. Officer Price stated that the dog placed its front paws on his forearm for about one second. He recalled taking one step back and pushing the dog away from him. Afraid that the dog was going to attack his face, Officer Price testified that he shot the dog twice while the dog’s paws were still on his left arm. The dog then made a screeching noise and limped across the yard, where the dog collapsed. After the shooting, Officer Price informed dispatch of what happened, saying “a dog came at me.” According to Officer Price, the dog did not bite or scratch him during the incident. Officer Price is 5’8” and, at the time of the incident, weighed about 250 pounds.

He testified that he had a taser, baton, and mace on his person at the time. Furthermore, he admitted that he did not vocalize any commands to the dog. At the time of the incident, Officer Price had been a sworn officer for less than a year.

Shortly after the shooting Mr. Reeves exited the house, approached Officer Price, and asked him what had happened. Officer Price recalled at trial that he responded that the dog had come at him, and he had to shoot it. Mr. Reeves testified that he then stepped forward and Officer Price responded by drawing his firearm. With his hand on the weapon, Officer Price told Mr. Reeves: “Stop. Don’t take another step.” Mr. Reeves then turned around and rushed to where his dog Vern had collapsed on the other side of the yard and was curled up beneath the neighbor’s fence. Mr. Reeves proceeded to administer CPR to Vern.

Additional officers arrived at the scene, and Officer Price returned to headquarters. Mr. Reeves testified that he believed that Vern died on the scene, but his son, Michael Reeves Jr., drove Vern to a nearby veterinary hospital where the dog was confirmed dead.”

Mr. Reeves sued and the jury awarded him $10,000 plus $500,000 in economic damages plus $750,000 for non-economic damages as a result of gross negligence.

To make a long sad story short, the Court of Appeals decided in a 6 to 1 decision that under Maryland law even though the police officer had been grossly negligent the only damages Mr. Reeves was entitled to was the $7,500 then allowed by the statute.

The lone dissenter wrote: “The legal arc of Maryland is one of progress and bends inexorably towards greater recognition of rights. The common law designation of pets as personal property, rooted in legal formalism, conflicts with society’s values and the trajectory of common law in Maryland and throughout the country. Our pets are more than just living beings. They are widely considered best friends, guardians, and members of the family. Maryland law should recognize and bestow pets with the same degree of dignity.”

What do you think?

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