Every night, I come home and am greeted by my best friend. He’s always glad to see me whether I’ve had a good day, or a trying day, or a day when someone else in the office got the last cup of coffee. That best friend is small, covered in fur (that incidentally also covers most of my home) and just happens to be a dog. He has been with me through all of law school, several cross-country moves, and many major life changes.
I am not the only Florida lawyer who has a special relationship with man’s best friend. In fact, recent changes to the law reflect that legislators also have taken an interest in what some activists are now calling “non-human animals.” Effective March 8, 2016, Section 768.139 of Florida Statutes was enacted to allow private citizens to enter motor vehicles for the purpose of removing a vulnerable person or domestic animal. Said citizen would be immune from civil liability provided certain statutory conditions are met. Also now in effect and passed in response to a situation concerning a citizen of Manatee County and his dog, “Padi’s law” amends the dangerous dog statute that was already on the books. “Padi’s law” amends particular sections of Chapter 767, Florida Statutes, by changing certain procedural and evidentiary requirements.
Additionally, the Florida Bar Association’s Animal Law standing committee will be converted into the Animal Law Section. Sections have open, voluntary memberships and produce specialized CLEs. Florida joins a number of other states that have animal law sections – however, the majority of states still have committees.
When I was little, my mom told me the story of the Trial of Old Drum, which was a case originating out of Johnson County, Missouri, where she grew up. Old Drum was a hound dog that was shot and killed by a neighbor in 1869. His death spurred years of litigation over damages – resulting in a total of four trials – and produced the famous speech Eulogy of the Dog: “The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is the dog.” Old Drum’s legacy outlived him because there is still litigation over damage to pets. Florida, like many states, classifies pets as personal property and courts assess damages for the loss of pets at fair market value. However, there is at least one Florida case where the court allowed mental suffering as the result of the malicious destruction of the owner’s dog to be submitted to the jury to assess damages. La Porte v. Associated Indeps., Inc., 163 So. 2d 267 (Fla. 1964). However, this case has been distinguished by other cases from lower tribunals on the basis that the destruction of the pet must be malicious or intentional.
Whatever your relationship to pets – whether handling cases with animal law aspects or purely personal – this practice area is on the rise.