Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matthew R. Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “What exactly is a wrongful death claim?”
Police are looking for someone who decapitated a thirteen-year-old deaf-and-blind service dog.
Shirley and Dennis Morrow—the dog’s owners—said a family friend who was helping them search for the dog located the animal’s body—sans its head—last Thursday. The Morrows allege that someone entered their fenced-in yard in Kings Mountain, North Carolina and stole an ax, a sledgehammer, a shovel and a propane tank.
Sadly, they say, whoever stole the items likely stole the head off their beloved pooch—named Libby. Investigators say the dog’s head has not yet been found. Cleveland County Animal Control officers found the animal’s collar while searching the Morrows’ yard on Friday.
The Tri-County Animal Shelter is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of the person responsible for the killing. Meanwhile, officials with the Kings Mountain Police Department say they have few leads as to the identity of the killer. The Morrows say they are keeping a watchful eye on their other dogs.
“You don’t think something like [this] would happen in a small town,” Dennis Morrow told the Charlotte Observer. The Morrows live in a residential area of Kings Mountain not far from the city’s downtown area. Kings Mountain is a small suburb of nearby Charlotte, North Carolina.
The perpetrator—if found—faces charges of burglary, larceny and animal cruelty. Prosecutors would likely charge the perpetrator with Felonious Cruelty to an Animal—nicknamed “Susie’s Law”—a relatively new law that strengthened criminal penalties for individuals who inflict particularly heinous acts of cruelty upon animals.
Civil actions brought by aggrieved pet owners against those who kill their pets by negligent or intentional conduct are available in North Carolina. Some states—California and Illinois—allow aggrieved pet owners to recover damages for the “peculiar value” of a lost pet, comparing pets to “other unique and irreplaceable items.” Courts in California, Hawaii, Florida, New York and Oregon have upheld damages awarded for emotional distress inflicted upon a pet owner as a result of a pet’s killing.
Unfortunately, courts in North Carolina have not recognized the “unique and irreplaceable” value of pets as justifying an award of damages beyond their market value. The market value of a dog is, in most cases, quite modest—at most a few hundred dollars. North Carolina courts have also not, to date, recognized an emotional distress claim arising from the killing of a pet, although some legal scholars believe a 1913 case—Beasley v. Byrum—authorizes emotional-distress damages in intentional-pet-killing cases.
Since the perpetrator in the Morrow case, by all accounts, intended to kill “Libby,” the Morrows could seek punitive damages in a suit against the perpetrator. Punitive damages can be awarded in cases in which a perpetrator evinces “willful, wanton or malicious” conduct. A judge or jury could set a punitive damages amount sufficient, in the view of the judge or jury, to punish the perpetrator for his or her wrongdoing.
If you or someone you know has any questions regarding potential personal injury claims, feel free to contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC in Charlotte, North Carolina for a free consultation. Call toll free at (955) 370-2828 or click here for additional resources.
About the Author
Matthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.
Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.
A board-certified specialist in the practice of Family Law, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state courts in North Carolina, in the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and in the Fourth Circuit United States Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.
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