June 1, 2011

Kimes v. Grosser: court reinstates punitive damages claim for attack on Pumkin the cat

Don't mess with Pumkin the cat, or you may end up paying punitive damages.  That's the message of this published opinion from the California Court of Appeal (First Appellate District, Division One).

The plaintiff alleged that the defendants shot his beloved cat Pumkin with a pellet gun while Pumkin was perched on a fence between the plaintiff's property and the defendants' property.  Pumkin needed emergency surgery costing $6,000.  She survived but was left partially paralyzed.  Plaintiff sued to recover the cost of the surgery, increased costs of care due to Pumkin's paralysis, and punitive damages.  The trial court ruled, however, that plaintiff could only recover Pumkin's fair market value.  The plaintiff conceded that Pumkin had no market value, so the trial court dismissed his case.

The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment of dismissal, ruling that the plaintiff was entitled to recover damages for the reasonable and necessary costs he incurred due to the wrongful injury of his cat.  More importantly for purposes of this blog, the court ruled that the plaintiff could recover punitive damages under California Civil Code section 3340(f), which provides that "exemplary damages may be given" in cases involving "wrongful injuries to animals . . committed willfully or by gross negligence, in disregard of humanity."  The statutory language leaves me wondering whether there are any cases defining "disregard of humanity," but I'll leave that issue for another day.  

UPDATE (6/2/11):  Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle reports: Brentwood man cleared to sue over cat's shooting (the article contains a photo of Pumkin)