DOG KILLED IN UTAH
Former Utah Utes Football head coach Ron McBride checked his German Shepherd named Christa into a dog hotel while the family had a large number of guests over their home for a wedding. At the dog hotel, Christa was sleeping in an enclosed area unseen by guests and staff. The staff knew that two of their other dogs were aggressive, but they let them into Christa’s same enclosure anyway. Those two dogs attacked and killed Christa.
The article with the video can be found here.
Under both criminal and civil law in Utah, the killing of a person is treated very differently than the killing of a dog. Our focus is on civil law. In Utah, as dog owners, we are held strictly liable for any damages caused by our dogs. Civil law is not focused on punishing the dog owners, it’s focused on trying to help the victims. If a person were negligently killed, Utah law dictates that his or her family may recover monetary compensation for “wrongful death.” The idea behind monetary compensation for personal injuries is to try to make the injured victim whole again. It’s imperfect, but we don’t have a time machine so the law tries to use the money to make it like it never happened. For a small injury, using the money to pay medical bills and lost wages can be a good start to making someone feel whole, but no amount of money can make up for the loss of a loved one.
Wrongful death damages allow money for:
- Funeral and burial expenses, and any medical expenses incurred before the death.
- Wages that the deceased would have earned in their lifetime had it not been cut short.
- Compensation for the emotional pain experienced by the family members as a result of the loss of their loved one.
- Compensation for the lost relationship including companionship, guidance, and care for the remainder of what would have been the expected lifetime.
As you can imagine, C and D are extremely hard to assign a monetary value to because no amount of money can really make up for the loss. In Utah, rarely do people ever sue for money from each other. More than 9 times out of 10, it’s just the at-fault person’s insurance policy that has to pay the claim. That’s why we have insurance. Rarely does anyone have enough insurance to pay what a wrongful death claim is actually worth, so these cases usually settle for whatever the max policy limit is on the applicable insurance. Typically could be anywhere between 25,000 and 1 Million.
Dogs Valued Like Property?
By contrast, under current Utah law, when one of our dogs is killed as a result of someone else being negligent, the only damages we get are for “property loss.” What that means is that the life of our actual dogs and our relationships with them are awarded nothing. The only thing we can be compensated for is the value of purchasing a replacement dog. This puts our dogs in the same classification as if we had lost our bike or our car, or our cell phone- nothing more.
This story raises the question of whether the lost life of our dogs should be valued like a piece of personal property, or should it be valued something more like the loss of a family member?
Please weigh in with your own thoughts and let us know what you think the law should be.
As far as criminal law related to dog attacks, the Utah Statute appears below:
UTAH CODE 769-301 Cruelty to animals
A person is guilty of aggravated cruelty to an animal if the person:
(a) tortures an animal;
(b) administers, or causes to be administered, poison or a poisonous substance to an animal; or
(c) kills an animal or causes an animal to be killed without having a legal privilege to do so
(a) a class A misdemeanor if committed intentionally or knowingly;
(b) a class B misdemeanor if committed recklessly; and
(c) a class C misdemeanor if committed with criminal negligence.
The defendant negligently caused an animal to be killed.