Pinky the Flamingo & Suing for A Pet’s Death

On August 4th, 2016 the staff at Tampa Bay Bush Gardens were struck with sudden loss. One of their animal icons, Pinky the Flamingo, was killed by a park visitor. Anthony Carrao, age 45, allegedly reached into one of the flamingo cages, grabbed Pinky, and threw him to the ground. Carrao was charged with animal cruelty, and while there are still questions as to how animal abusers like Carrao should be criminally punished. This article addresses another issue: is there a lawsuit for civil damages available?

People often wonder whether they can file a lawsuit or make a claim for civil damages for the death of a pet. Whether the lawsuit is for veterinary malpractice, simple negligence, or some intentional tort will play an important role in deciding what money damages a pet or animal owner may recover. The “market value” and income producing abilities of the pet may also play a role.

As a general rule, Florida courts apply the impact rule to cases involving the death of pets. That rule holds that unless the person filing a lawsuit has experienced some direct physical impact to their person, they cannot recover for emotional damages. However, there is an exception to the rule where the person responsible for the pet’s death performed some malicious or intentional act. In those circumstances, Florida courts have held that the malicious killing of a pet will allow the pet owner to recover for emotional damages. If, however, the death was unintentional or an accident, emotional damages are off the table.

Even without emotional damages, pet owners can still sue for their pet’s death. However, the general rule is that their recovery is limited to their economic damages.  The court will look at the “market value” of the pet. For instance, if a rescue dog is killed by a car, the market value would be very little. In fact, the cost of filing a lawsuit may exceed the amount of a potential recovery. On the other hand, if a race horse dies as a result of veterinary malpractice, the owner could sue for a much larger amount. This is because courts view pets more as property than as members of the family.

Owners may also make a claim for what is known as consequential damages. If a pet is badly injured and incurs a great deal of veterinary bills before it passes away, their owner may be able to recover for the amount of the bills.

Regardless of the situation, it is always important to remember that you can’t draw blood from a turnip. That is to say, if the person responsible for the pet’s death doesn’t have any money to compensate for the loss, it may be a waste of time and money to sue them.

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