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Court fails to recognize “pets are more than living things” in ruling on police murder of family dog

Timothy Reeves with his dog Vern, shot dead by an Anne Arundel County police officer in 2014 (Facebook Justice for Vern)

Judge slammed Maryland’s highest court for failing to recognize the importance of pets to their owners in modern society, after a family was awarded just $ 7,500 in damages as a result of the shooting of their dog by a police officer.

In reducing the damages awarded to the family – initially set at $ 1.26 million – Chief Justice Mary Ellen Barbera said that “non-economic damages, such as mental anguish and loss of companionship, do not are not included ”in the“ exhaustive definition of compensatory damages ”of the legislation.

She said the wrongful death of a pet law is different from laws governing the wrongful death of people – which allow for economic and emotional damage.

Vern, a Chesapeake Bay retriever belonging to a family of Glen Burnie, was shot dead by an officer in 2014 who had visited the property to investigate burglaries. The officer said he feared being attacked, but acted negligently in shooting the animal, after owner Michael Reeves filed a complaint in 2015 for the economic impact and emotional trauma from his family.

A jury initially awarded $ 1.26 million in damages, including money for the owner’s grief and lost wages in the 2017 court proceeding. It was later reduced by the trial judge at $ 207,500.

On Monday, the court further reduced the Reeves family’s money to just $ 7,500, an amount considerably less than their costs during the trial over the years, according to the Washington post. The legislation has since been revised to raise the limit to $ 10,000.

Court of Appeals Judge Michele D Hotten disagreed with the order, saying the court missed the opportunity to correct Maryland law to accommodate modern sensitivities about pets.

“Our pets are more than living things. They are widely regarded as best friends, guardians, and family members. Maryland law should recognize and accord pets the same level of dignity, ”Hotten said.

The court confirmed that the police had acted negligently and recognized that the owner “suffered a tragic loss”. But the court said the law does not cover pecuniary damages for pet owners and the court does not generally allow compensation for emotional suffering caused by the death of an animal.

Officer Rodney Price said he shot the dog after he placed his paws on his arm, court documents say, testifying that his paws were still on him when he double-shot him times. The court heard that Vern then screamed and limped to the neighbor’s fence before collapsing.

But a veterinarian expert, introduced by the Reeves family, disputed the officer’s claim, saying a dog Vern’s size could only reach the officer’s stomach, even if he stood on his feet. hind legs.

The owner said he was devastated by the loss and moved to California after Vern’s death. He said Vern was “my best friend in the world, period” and had undergone therapy to deal with the loss, according to court records.

Ms Hotten, in her dissent, said her colleagues should recognize pets “not just as emotional, intelligent, loving and cherished members of our families, but as more than just personal possessions.”

She said many Maryland lawmakers have already pointed out the contradiction in Maryland law which allows unlimited damage for the destruction of property but limited damage for the death of a pet.

Cary Hansel, lawyer for the Reeves family, said he would go ahead with additional lawsuits for the wrongful death of a pet.

“This dog was shot. It did not scratch, bite or injure the officer in any way, ”Mr. Hansel said. “We all know this is a real, tangible loss.”

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