Approximately a month ago, a jury awarded a Chicago family 300,000 in compensation as a result of a 2009 incident in which an officer, conducting a warranted search, shot and killed the family’s black Labrador “Lady.” In this case the family filed claims against the police officers in question for excessive force, false arrest and intentional infliction emotional distress. According to a fellow blogger, this is perhaps the first Illinois case in which a family was awarded damages for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress when the underlying “distress” was an Officer’s killing of the family’s pet.
Such an award is a big step forward for families that lose their pets under similar circumstances, which surprisingly happens more than one would think.
In fact, the case hit close to home for me because it closely tied in to a paper I wrote during my time at Pace Law School, which delved into the potential legal actions families in similar circumstances had against the police.
During my research I discovered that there is a line of court cases which suggest that families or individuals that lose their pets during warranted or unwarranted property searches may have a § 1983 action (a civil action for the deprivation of constitutional rights) against the officers in question, claiming a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. (Note that the Fourth Amendment governs an individual’s right to privacy by guaranteeing “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”)
In fact, many courts (see here, here and here for some case descriptions) have held that if during a warranted or unwarranted search, the police harm a domestic animal that posed no threat to them, or to the public, their actions can be considered unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment and a § 1983 action can be established.
Adding the recent Chicago case, to these past cases show that courts are taking seriously the losses families and individuals suffer when their pets are accidently (or on rare occasions, purposely) killed. This is another great step forward in the world of Animal Law.
Filed under: animal law