Ariz. appeals court: Pet owner cannot sue for emotional distress

Chris Rizo Dec. 28, 2009, 2:00am

PHOENIX, Ariz. (Legal Newsline)-A pet owner cannot sue for emotional distress or loss of companionship as part of a veterinarian malpractice claim, the Arizona Court of Appeals has ruled.

In a unanimous decision, the appeals court rejected a lawsuit by David Kaufman, which sought compensation after his bird, a scarlet macaw, died. He was asking for more money that the bird was valued at, in his claim.

"We hold such damages are not recoverable under Arizona law," the court said in its unanimous decision written by Judge Patricia Norris.

Kaufman, who purchased the bird in 1996, said in court papers that the bird, named Salty, was his companion who accompanied him to work. In 2005, Salty was diagnosed with cloacal prolapse.

Dr. William Langhofer, a veterinarian, performed two operations on the bird. The first procedure cured Salty's cloacal prolapse but left her with a uterine prolapse.

Court papers say the bird never recovered from the second surgery and died the following month. Kaufman sued Langhofer and the Scottsdale Veterinary Clinic, alleging professional negligence, wrongful death, negligent misrepresentation and damage to and destruction of personal property.

The appeals court rejected Kaufman's claims for special damages, affirming a trial jury's decision in Maricopa County Judge Christopher Whitten's courtroom.

"We acknowledge the emotional distress Kaufman suffered over Salty's death," Norris wrote. "But Dr. Langhofer's negligence did not directly harm Kaufman in that it did not affect or burden a personal right or interest belonging to him."

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