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Can You File a Personal Injury Lawsuit Over the Loss of a Pet?


Personal injury claims based on negligence require proof that the defendant breached some “duty of care” owed to the plaintiff–and that said breach actually caused the plaintiff’s injury. The existence of a duty of care is a legal question, while causation is a factual question.

Court of Appeals Rules Veterinarian’s Negligence Caused Cat’s Death

To illustrate how both elements work in a personal injury case, consider this recent decision by the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Delany v. Kriger. Although the plaintiffs in this case dubbed their lawsuit a “wrongful death” action, that is not technically accurate, since the victim here was a cat. While many of us consider pets part of the family, from a legal standpoint they are considered personal property.

In any case, here is what happened. The plaintiffs owned a 10-year-old cat. They brought the cat to a local animal hospital because she had stopped eating. The veterinarian in charge conducted an initial examination and determined the cat could not swallow.

A second veterinarian, who previously treated the cat, then joined the examination. She decided the cat needed a feeding tube to prevent the likelihood of liver failure due to malnutrition. However, while performing the procedure, the first veterinarian inserted the tube into the cat’s trachea, which caused the cat to aspirate food and die within about 30 seconds.

The plaintiffs subsequently filed a civil warrant with the general sessions court, demanding monetary damages for the “abuse and tortious wrongful death” of their cat. The warrant named both veterinarians individually, as well as the limited liability company (LLC) that owned the animal hospital. The court granted the plaintiffs a $5,000 judgment, which the defendants appealed to the Circuit Court.

The second veterinarian passed away while litigation was pending. In discovery before the Circuit Court, the first veterinarian recounted what happened on the day of the cat’s death, and the defense admitted liability. But the Circuit Court judge declined to hold the veterinarians responsible in their individual capacities.

Furthermore, the judge ruled that while the defendants breached their duty of care, the plaintiffs failed to prove causation. That is to say, the judge said that based on the evidence presented, the cat had a failing liver and a 79 percent chance of dying even absent the second veterinarian’s negligence. The judge said Tennessee does not recognize a claim for damages based on a “loss of chance” at survival.

But the Court of Appeals disagreed. The appeals court noted the “undisputed” evidence proved the cat “died as a result of being fed through the tube that was improperly placed in her trachea.” This was a textbook example of causation. The Court of Appeals therefore returned the case to the Circuit Court to determine what economic damages, if any, the plaintiffs sustained due to the “loss of their personal property.”

Speak with a Tennessee Personal Injury Lawyer Today

Personal injury claims cover a wide range of negligent acts that harm a person’s body and property. If you have sustained a loss due to someone else’s negligence, an experienced Knoxville personal injury lawyer can assist you in holding the responsible parties accountable. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, to speak with a lawyer today about your case.




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