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Issue of the Case
A New York court was asked whether a plaintiff whose dog died because of a mislabeled prescription could obtain damages for the loss of companionship of the animal.
Facts of the Case
The plaintiff took her 9-year-old dog to a veterinarian, who prescribed the anti-inflammation drug Feldene (piroxicam) to treat the dog's ailment. The prescription was filled at the defendant pharmacy.
The label on the prescription bottle directed that the drug be administered as "1 pill twice daily."Shortly after beginning the treatment, the dog became ill. Tests revealed that it was suffering from renal damage due to Feldene toxicity. The plaintiff then discovered that the Feldene prescription as written by the veterinarian called for "1 pill every other day,"but the pharmacy had mislabeled it. After the dog died, an autopsy revealed that the Feldene was the probable cause of death.
The plaintiff filed this lawsuit, asserting several causes of action, including claims for consumer fraud and damages for the loss of companionship of her pet. The defendant pharmacy moved to dismiss the claims.
The Court's Ruling
As to the issue of damages, the trial court ruled that the plaintiff could introduce proof of the loss of the dog's companionship during the trial. The appellate court disagreed and overturned the decision.
The Court's Reasoning
The pharmacy argued that it would be improper to permit the plaintiff to introduce evidence regarding the loss of her dog's companionship at trial. The appellate court agreed. Earlier cases had established that pets are recognized as personal property, and damages for the loss of a pet are limited to the value of the animal at the time it died.
To determine the damages, the courts ordinarily look for proof of the market value of the pet at the time of death. If there is no market value, courts must use any factor that would tend to show its value. The plaintiff contended that a monetary value should be attached to the companionship she had with her dog. Because New York law does not recognize loss of companionship as a cause of action, however, it could not be a factor in determining damages.
Larry M. Simonsmeier is Emeritus Professor of Pharmacy Law at Washington State University College of Pharmacy.