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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Every dog has its day ! --- pets’ value is more than market value

An Insurance Policy is a contract of indemnity – in most General Insurance  policies, the Sum Insured [the value for which the policy is taken] only represents the maximum outgo of an Insurer and does not guarantee any right for the policy holder to claim the maximum.

There is something known as ‘measure of indemnity’ which would reflect the fair value of the loss or damage and the value which needs to be reimbursed by an Insurer. Depending on the subject matter and terms of the policy, there are various methods of arriving at this measure, which will include the reinstatement value, the depreciated value, the market value and more……  Indemnity can mean different things to different people – depending on their status and their position in the supply chain.  The concept of indemnity may not be invoked in liability policies, where indemnity could well be what the eventual claimant is entitled to but what the policy holder is called upon to pay…

The sound principles of compensation apply to all claims and legal suits – whether Insurance is a party of the litigation or not.  Thus at various times Courts have arrived the value of indemnity going by the established principles of ‘what was lost to the claimant that can be quantified in monetary terms’.   While this is simple in Property insurance as it is relatively easier to arrive at the value of the property damaged or lost, there could be more complications when it involves animate things.

There have been many litigations on the values of animals – kept as pets and otherwise….. In animal kingdom [jungle law] – might is right and not all are equal… sometimes, the claim is not for the mere monetary compensation for the loss of an animal but more……  Claims Journal reports of an interesting case of Texas Court reinstating a couple’s law suit against animal shelter that accidentally euthanized their 8-year-old dog, ruling that they can sue to recover the sentimental value of their pet.

Sentimental value ?  - how can there be and how much can be the value of sentiment !!   

The street dog menace is high in Chennai – in earlier days, Corporation officials would snoop on the dog crudely with a rope and take in ‘dog vehicles’ alongwith tens of street dogs so caught in the day… reportedly they were clubbed to death – years later they were electrocuted ?  now-a-days, they are being caught, sterilized and released back in the same area….   In the case reported in US, a Labrador mixed breed dog escaped in June 2009 from its family’s back yard in Fort Worth and was picked up by the city’s animal control. The  owners could locate it at the shelter the next day, but through a series of slip-ups and errors,  the dog was added to the euthanasia list and put to sleep.

The owners filed a suit and the  lower Court Judge dismissed the lawsuit  saying that the plaintiff can sue only for  market value of the pet.  They went on appeal and  the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth ruled this month that the couple can sue, saying sentimental damages can be recovered for the loss or destruction of all types of personal property, including pets. The lawsuit did not specify the amount of damages it was seeking.  “Dogs are unconditionally devoted to their owners. Today, we interpret timeworn supreme court law in light of subsequent supreme court law to acknowledge that the special value of ‘man’s best friend’ should be protected,” the court ruled in its 11-page opinion.

It is not sure whether the Animal Centre involved will go on appeal against the ruling.    If there is no appeal, the case would likely go back to trial court where a judge could consider the lawsuit on its merits or consider a request to dismiss it on the grounds that the worker had governmental immunity.

Strange things happen and every day there are newer interpretations !

With regards
S. Sampathkumar

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