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Little Legal Recourse after Dog Attacks, Pet Injuries

Two dogs killed a New Canaan man's 30 chickens in October 2011. He was reimbursed $210 by the state.

 

Pet owners don’t pursue civil suits in cases where their animals are hurt—attacked, injured by accident or even killed—because what the courts award isn’t worth the cost of litigation, according to one expert.

Similarly, cases of medical malpractice almost never brought against veterinarians because animals are considered “chattel” or property under the law, and so the value of a pet—say, a dog—is just what it would cost to replace the animal, said Ridgefield attorney Richard Hastings.

“Given the value of the animal relative to the cost required to prosecute a medical malpractice case, it doesn’t make sense from a cost standpoint to pursue,” he said.

In 30 years of practice, Hastings said he’s only had one person inquire into suing in a case where the would-be plaintiff’s dog was attacked and killed by another dog.

The comments come in the wake of a widely discussed incident in town, where a pair of dogs ran off property and mauled a miniature donkey. The dogs’ owner located her animals quickly and pulled them off of the donkey, which bit her during the commotion.

In that case, the animal attacked survived. That’s not always the case.

In New Canaan on Oct. 10, 2011, a resident of Jonathan Road reported to town police that his 30 chickens were killed by two border collies that had run onto his property and clawed their way under a secured fence where the birds were kept (see photo), according to Officer Mary Ann Kleinschmitt of the New Canaan Police Department’s animal control unit.

That incident triggered a little-known Connecticut law that recalls the state’s rural roots.

According to a report from the Connecticut Office of Legislative Research, in cases where a dog kills livestock, the owner of the dead animals may collect money from the town, which in turn may pursue collection of funds from the dog owner or state.

In the case in New Canaan in October 2011, Kleinschmitt said, the state paid the owner $210—$7 per chicken. The dogs were never found.

Under yet another state law, a poultry owner can without civil or criminal liability kill a dog that he sees “pursuing or worrying his animals,” the OLR says.

Still another law applies to known vicious dogs that attack humans, where an attack can trigger a $1,000 fine and even imprisonment. In that case, it depends on whether the dog owner recklessly allows his or her dog to roam and “the dog physically injures another person who was not teasing, tormenting, or abusing it,” the OLR says.

For Hastings, it’s wonderful to have such detailed dog laws on the books—though in the case of dogs attacking other animals it’s impractical for anyone to “jump through all these hoops to get a check for $100.”

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