Pets: People, Property or Somewhere in Between?

Recently a woman in New York filed suit against a pet store because the dog she purchased suffers various medical complaints. The suit seeks to hold the store liable for the animal's pain, suffering and medical bills, as if it were a person rather than a piece of property. While the woman's ultimate goal is to help shut down puppy mills, the issue is a valid one.

While pets are not people, they are also not inanimate objects. A coffee table doesn't run if something gets spilled on it. It doesn't wait for you to come home; nor does it snuggle in bed. A pet will do all of those things.

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Pets feel pain and, if properly cared for, receive regular medical attention. Annual vaccinations and checkups are routine, similar to humans. Some people even dress their pets and take them to the groomers for what amounts to a wash, cut and blow dry—and maybe even a pedicure. Sounds like a spa treatment to me.

What does all this mean for the insurance industry? How is pain and suffering measured in an animal? Pets can't tell you that their pain is a 6 on a scale of 0 to 10, so how is that to be measured? Will there be payments for loss of future affection, the way a disabled person may be paid for loss of future income?

I agree that medical payments need to be paid when a pet is injured. You haven't restored the insured or claimant to their original position by just getting a replacement pet. If the animal can be treated, then payment for those medical bills should be made. An injured pet isn't necessarily a total loss—and if medical attention can restore the animal to health, those costs should be paid even though a replacement from the pound would be cheaper. Any animal lover will tell you animals have distinct personalities and that pets aren't interchangeable.

So yes, I agree with the woman in New York that pets are living souls. How about you? Is a pet more like a coffee table, or more like a human?

About the Author
Christine G. Barlow

Christine G. Barlow

Christine G. Barlow is an Associate Editor with FC&S Online, a sister publication of PropertyCasualty360-National Underwriter and part of Summit Business Media. She has an extensive background in insurance underwriting. She may be reached at cbarlow@sbmedia.com.

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