Issue of the Case
A New York court was askedwhether a plaintiff whose dog diedbecause of a mislabeled prescriptioncould obtain damages for the loss ofcompanionship of the animal.
Facts of the Case
The plaintiff took her 9-year-old dogto a veterinarian, who prescribed theanti-inflammation drug Feldene(piroxicam) to treat the dog's ailment.The prescription was filled at thedefendant pharmacy.
The label on the prescription bottledirected that the drug be administeredas "1 pill twice daily."Shortly afterbeginning the treatment, the dogbecame ill. Tests revealed that it wassuffering from renal damage due toFeldene toxicity. The plaintiff then discoveredthat the Feldene prescriptionas written by the veterinarian calledfor "1 pill every other day,"but thepharmacy had mislabeled it. After thedog died, an autopsy revealed that theFeldene was the probable cause ofdeath.
The plaintiff filed this lawsuit,asserting several causes of action,including claims for consumer fraudand damages for the loss of companionshipof her pet. The defendantpharmacy moved to dismiss theclaims.
The Court's Ruling
As to the issue of damages, the trialcourt ruled that the plaintiff couldintroduce proof of the loss of the dog'scompanionship during the trial. Theappellate court disagreed and overturnedthe decision.
The Court's Reasoning
The pharmacy argued that it wouldbe improper to permit the plaintiff tointroduce evidence regarding the lossof her dog's companionship at trial.The appellate court agreed. Earliercases had established that pets are recognizedas personal property, anddamages for the loss of a pet are limitedto the value of the animal at thetime it died.
To determine the damages, thecourts ordinarily look for proof of themarket value of the pet at the time ofdeath. If there is no market value,courts must use any factor that wouldtend to show its value. The plaintiffcontended that a monetary valueshould be attached to the companionshipshe had with her dog. BecauseNew York law does not recognize lossof companionship as a cause of action,however, it could not be a factor indetermining damages.
Larry M. Simonsmeier isEmeritus Professor ofPharmacy Law atWashington State UniversityCollege of Pharmacy.