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Skagss v. Walmart Stores East, Inc. (2000)

Plaintiff's Attorney:   Katie Marie Brophy (Louisville)

Defendant's Attorney:   Julian E. Kennamer (Louisville)

3rd Party Amicus or Intervening Party:   Animal Legal Defense Fund

Topic: Damages, Product Liability

Case File #:   98CI 02954

Jurisdiction:   Kentucky - Jefferson County Circuit Court

Year Case Filed:   1998

Printible Version

This case involves a suit by a dog owner against Wal-Mart and a company called 21st Century Pets after an indoor pet boundary fence and transmitter caused fatal injuries to plaintiff’s dog.  The Plaintiff alleged that the product was so defective as to create causes of action based on strict liability, negligence, breach of implied and express warranties, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation.  Among the most contested issue was that of damages; plaintiff here sought both compensatory and punitive damages. 

In moving for partial summary judgment, defendants took issue with plaintiff’s request for compensatory damages that included mental pain and anguish as a component.  Defendants specifically denounced any extension of damages beyond fair market value for the loss of companion animals and also argued that plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages was unsupported.  In defendant’s reply to plaintiff’s response to defendant’s motion for summary judgment, defendant sharply criticized plaintiff’s argument to extend the rule of “household goods and wearing apparel” to companion animals.  The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an amicus brief that argued the current paradigm of assessing damages in companion animal cases is outdated.  Defendants took issue with the ALDF’s arguments, reiterating that no Kentucky law supported the extension of damages for companion animals.  Further, defendants felt the creation of a rule analogous to the household goods exception would allow a damage calculation based on emotive factors.  In essence, defendant’s responses focused on plaintiff’s intimations that damages in companion animal actions should include the animal’s value as a companion.

In the Opinion and Order, the Jefferson County Court first pointed out recent occurrences that demonstrated the status of companion animals in modern society.  It then observed that plaintiff’s dog, of mixed-breed, had nominal value.  Thus, the court found the “fair market value standard falls far short of fair compensation for the loss of a companion animal.”  The court agreed that the household goods exception, well-recognized under Kentucky law, was an example of the extension of damages for property beyond fair market value.  While the court did not create a formulaic standard for assessing damages, it truly is a progressive opinion as it breaks the traditional mold of damages for companion animals.

Chronology of Documents:

Plaintiff’s Complaint (04/14/1998) (pdf. file 217 KB)

Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (03/28/1999) (pdf. file 222 KB)

Defendant’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (11/03/1999) (pdf. file 206 KB)

Defendant’s Reply to Memorandum of Law of Animal Legal Defense Fund as Amicus Curiae in Support of Plaintiff’s on the Issue Specified (12/14/1999) (pdf file 107 KB)

Defendant’s Reply to Plaintiff’s Response to Defendant’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (12/14/1999) (pdf. file 159 KB)

Jefferson Circuit Court, Jefferson County Kentucky, Opinion and Order (04/19/2000) (pdf file 135 KB)


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