The defendant struck our client’s little dog with a baseball bat knocking it down a hill, tumbling, and slamming into a tree. Hearing their dog howling in pain from a broken leg, my clients knew something terrible had just happened.
This wasn’t the first time my clients had been harassed by their neighbors, but it was going to be the last—the name-calling, stalking, and physical threats needed to stop.
Members of the family were referred to our office for help. As a result, we filed a lawsuit against the adult neighbors. We litigated the case and took it to trial. The jury awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars against the defendants.
In addition to money damages, the jury also helped create new California law. It found that a California pet owner suffering emotional distress damages because of somebody else’s intentional wrongful conduct causing harm to their pet could bring a claim against the responsible party for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
This legal theory made sense to us, but it had never been tested in court to the best of our knowledge. We obtained our clients’ permission to take a risk and allow us to include this particular cause of action in the case. The defense attorney fought us hard at each step, but in the end, everything worked out the way we were hoping it would.
The defendants appealed our jury verdict, and we handed the appeal over to an experienced appellate lawyer to help protect the judgment. If you’d like to see the details and read the court’s rationale, click above or 208 Cal.App.4th 1590 (2012), 146 Cal.Rptr.3d 585.
For helping this wonderful family and creating new California law, I was honored to receive a 2013 California Litigation Lawyer of the Year (CLAY Award). Above is a picture with the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye, who presented me with the award.
Today because of this case, California pet owners have rights when someone intentionally harms their pet and the owner experiences emotional distress and damages. On a side note, I think this case also serves as a good reminder that as neighbors, let’s treat each other with empathy and kindness.