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Eliseo Martinez, Jr., et al v. Enrique Robledo

October 23, 2012

ELISEO MARTINEZ, JR., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
ENRIQUE ROBLEDO, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT. MARGARET WORKMAN, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
STEPHEN E. KLAUSE ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



(Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. NC042929) (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC415058) APPEALS from judgments of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Roy L. Paul, Judge. Debre Katz Weintraub, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Doi Todd

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Reversed and remanded.

The consolidated appeals in these two cases present the same legal issue: What is the measure of damages for the wrongful injury of a pet? We hold that a pet owner is not limited to the market value of the pet and may recover the reasonable and necessary costs incurred for the treatment and care of the pet attributable to the injury. Accordingly, we reverse the stipulated judgments and remand the cases for further proceedings.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The plaintiffs in both cases are represented by the same attorneys, but the parties and facts are otherwise unrelated.

Eliseo Martinez, Jr., individually and as guardian ad litem for minors Eliseo Martinez III and Russell Eric Martinez, and Arlene Gonzalez (collectively Martinez) alleged the following: On the morning of February 5, 2009, Martinez's family dog, Gunner, a two-year-old German Shepherd, got loose from his yard and entered the property next door belonging to respondent Enrique Robledo. At the time, the neighbors were involved in a dispute over a hedge and were not on good terms. Gunner and Robledo's dog began barking at each other, but were separated by a gate and incapable of physical contact. Robledo shot and wounded Gunner. The veterinarian later had to amputate Gunner's right rear leg. Martinez sued Robledo for negligence and conversion, seeking recovery of $20,789.81 in veterinarian bills in addition to punitive damages.*fn1

Margaret Workman alleged the following: In December 2008 she took Katie, her nine-year-old Golden Retriever, to respondent Stephen E. Klause, a veterinarian with respondent Arcadia Small Animal Hospital, for surgery to remove a small liver lobe. During the procedure, Klause nicked and cut Katie's intestine, causing internal bleeding, and left a piece of surgical gauze inside her body. Klause did not disclose what had happened. Workman was charged $4,836.16 for the procedure. Almost immediately, Katie began vomiting blood, exhibited signs of pain and developed internal bleeding. Workman took Katie to the Animal Emergency Referral Center for emergency surgery. The center saved Katie's life by stopping the bleeding and removing remnants of the gauze, which had begun to dissolve and cause infections. The center billed Workman $37,766.06. When Workman confronted Klause, he offered to return the $4,836.16 she had paid him, but refused to pay for the emergency bills. Workman sued for negligence and unfair business practices (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200).

In both cases, respondents filed motions in limine regarding the issue of damages. In Martinez's case, respondent sought to limit evidence of damages to Gunner's market value. In Workman's case, respondents sought to preclude evidence purporting to show that Katie had a "peculiar" or "unique" value. In both cases, after the trial courts had ruled that the measure of damages would be limited to the market value of the dogs, the parties entered into stipulated judgments for the purpose of appealing the damages issue. The parties stipulated that the market value of each dog was $1,000, that judgments would be entered in favor of appellants in this amount, and that appellants would not seek execution of the judgments while the appeals were pending.*fn2

DISCUSSION

Summary of Contentions

Appellants contend that pets are and should be treated as fundamentally more significant than mere personal property and that the appropriate measure of damages for an owner whose pet is wrongfully injured should be the reasonable and necessary costs incurred for the pet's care and treatment. They argue that damages should not be limited to the market value of the animal. Appellants rely on Kimes v. Grosser (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 1556 (Kimes) (discussed below) and Civil Code section 3333, which provides: "For the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, the measure of damages, except where otherwise expressly provided by this code, is the amount which will compensate for all the detriment proximately caused thereby, whether it could have been anticipated or not."*fn3

Respondents contend that because domestic animals are considered the personal property of their owners (Civ. Code, § 655; Pen. Code, § 491 ["Dogs are personal property, and their value is to be ascertained in the same manner as the value of other property"]), the appropriate measure of damages for wrongful injury to a pet should be the same as that for other personal property, as set forth in CACI No. 3903J and the supporting cases. CACI No. 3903J provides that the measure of damages for injury to personal property is either the difference in market value immediately before and after the injury, or the cost of repairs, whichever is less. The instruction also provides that if the property "cannot be completely repaired, the damages are the difference between its value before the harm and its value after the repairs have been made, plus the reasonable cost of making the repairs. The total ...


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