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Piazza v. Best Friends Resorts & Salon

A-6347-01T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

BAILMENTS; PETS; DAMAGES—A commercial dog kennel acts as a bailee with respect to boarded pets and is liable for the cost to replace a pet killed by the kennel’s negligence, but there is no recovery for emotional distress in the absence of the kennel’s intention to kill the pet.

A dog was boarded with a kennel. It died while in the kennel’s possession, probably because of a defect in the kennel’s cages. The dog owner sued for loss of the dog and then for emotional distress. When property is turned over to the possession and control of a bailee, a bailment is established. “When a bailment has mutual benefits for the bailor and bailee, the bailee has a duty to ‘exercise reasonable care for the safekeeping of the chattel bailee.’” “[A]n animal is considered personal property and thus, the boarding of that animal or the transfer of possession and control of that animal to another for consideration constitutes a bailment.” Where a bailment exists and there is a loss of the property while in the bailee’s possession, “a presumption of negligence arises, requiring the bailee to come forward with evidence to show that the loss did not occur through its negligence and that it exercised due care.” Here, the owner turned its dog over to the kennel in return for a monetary payment. Therefore, a bailment was created. Consequently, the kennel needed to rebut the presumption of negligence. In this particular case, the kennel was found not to have overcome that presumption. As to damages, because there was no intent to harm the dog, its owner could only recover its replacement value. “A general award of damages for the negligent loss of a pet is the animal’s replacement value, although in limited circumstances, a party may be entitled to recover economic expenses above the animal’s replacement value to restore the animal to its condition prior to its injury.” Here, there were no such expenses because the dog was found dead. Lastly, in general, “[t]here is no recovery for emotional distress of loss of companionship damages for the death of a pet” because to recognize “a cause of action on this basis for loss of pets would open up the floodgates to future litigation.” According to the Court, “[i]t would be incongruous to award emotional distress and loss of companionship damages for loss of a pet when such damages are unavailable for the loss of a child or spouse in wrongful death claims.

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