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Ruby: Seminal Decision on Veterinary Malpractice Litigation
(Nov. 18, 2008)

Sherman v. Kissinger, (pdf) 146 Wash.App. 855 (Div. I, 2008), pub.: A published decision holding that Washington's medical malpractice statute, chapter 7.70 RCW, does not apply to lawsuits involving allegations of malpractice by veterinarians. Although one might assume that applying a human health statute to veterinarians would be a good thing for animals and their guardians, in fact, the opposite is true. Chapter 7.70 establishes a number of impediments to malpractice suits, including mandatory mediation, a shorter statute of limitations, and the elimination of alternative causes of action, many of which are relied on by animal law practitioners to enhance claims on behalf of animal guardians. Sherman also argued that her dog, Ruby, was a unique individual who was irreplaceable; the only way to even approach adequately compensating Sherman was to give her the special value that she placed on the dog, also known as "intrinsic value." The defendants' position, which was supported by an amicus brief from pet industry organizations including the American Kennel Club, was that Sherman was only entitled to the market value of Ruby, an amount of $100-$200. The court held, importantly, that the question of an animal's value is one for the jury and not, in ordinary circumstances, one to be determined by a judge in a pretrial motion. Lastly, the court confirmed that emotional distress damages are recoverable when a person intentionally causes injury or death to a companion animal.


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