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Can I sue a driver who hit my dog?

Asked by user in California.

My mother was walking my dog Charlie when he dropped his ball and pulled away and was hit by a driver. The driver was going about 65 in a 50 zone and fled the accident, leaving my mother hysterical in the street trying to get the dog’s body out of the road. I want to sue the driver because I think he returned after he saw the damage was more than he expected. He has no concern for what this has done to this family! The driver asked us for money and tried to file a claim with my mother’s insurance and does not care! He was speeding for sure and did not try to stop. It appeared from the blood smear that his car dragged Charlie about 50 feet. I need help!

Answered by Enjuris Editors:

I am so sorry to hear about Charlie. I am sure that the experience has been traumatic for your whole family. It sounds as though both your mother and this driver bear some liability for the accident. Your mother lost control of the dog, who darted into the street, into the path of the oncoming car. But if the driver was speeding or distracted, and that’s why he wasn’t able to avoid hitting the dog, then he has some liability too.

In most cases, the legal system will consider a dog to be personal property, which means if you’re able to sue the driver, you would recover costs for what Charlie would be “worth” on the market (in other words, the cost to purchase a replacement dog). I know it sounds harsh to compare a beloved pet to a dollar amount, but that’s how the courts work.

However, a 2012 California case allowed a pet owner to recover damages for emotional distress from a defendant’s intentional injury to their dog. A jury award provided for both costs to cover the dog’s surgery and treatment and the owner’s emotional distress. In your situation though, it sounds like the injury to Charlie was definitely not intentional, and it was partially your mother’s fault because she was walking the dog when he got loose and ran into traffic. Therefore, unfortunately, it would seem unlikely that you would recover damages from the driver for emotional distress.

As far as the driver having fled the scene, that could result in a hit and run charge if you reported the accident to the police.

Still, this is complicated and seems to involve liability of both parties. My suggestion is that you seek the advice of a lawyer who can evaluate the evidence and guide you through the legal process. If you need a lawyer, please feel free to use the Enjuris law firm directory to find a California attorney who can help.

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