Are pets emerging as new practice areas?

Are pets emerging as new practice areas?

Specialty attorneys may represent your pet in court

According to FindLaw, there is now one attorney for every 257 Americans. That stat is even more alarming –for lawyers, that is- when a look back to 1950 reveals there was one lawyer for every 709 Americans. So, what’s a lawyer to do in such a buyer’s market?

Why, specialize, of course. And we’re not just talking sub-specialties. Creative law firms and attorneys nationwide are carving out new and emerging niches through which they hope to garner your attention and business, earning a legal living in the process.

The latest potential for niche specialties is the emerging practice area of pets. Think this is far-fetched? Consider the following case highlights from around the legal web, and then think again.

In March of this year, a Colorado judge awarded a dog owner $65,000 for emotional distress in her dog injury case. The award set legal precedence because prior to the decision, courts viewed dogs and other pets as replaceable property.

After a cleaning service disregarded the dog owner’s instructions to keep the doors closed, the dog escaped, was hit by a car and later died. Previously, the only claim a pet owner could hope to make would likely occur in small claims court for the “replacement value” of the pet.

Not anymore. Courts are starting to recognize the emotional and economic damages pet owners sustain when their beloved animals are wrongly injured.

Back in February, FindLaw reported on another canine case in Hawaii. This time, one of the two injured dogs owner was a criminal defense lawyer. Attorney Michael Green sued a local pet grooming company when they cut off the tip of his dog’s tail. Neighbors joined in the lawsuit when the same groomers cut off their dog’s ear, and then tried to glue it back on.

While this case is still pending, initial news reports indicate the lawsuit seeks monetary damages for emotional distress and economic loss, probably in the form of veterinary bills which can be a substantial expense.

Then there are pet custody issues. In last week’s post, Attorney Report highlighted a dog custody battle drawing significant media attention around the country, and the web. When a New York couple broke-up and parted ways, each former live-in partner laid claim to “Knuckles” the dog.

In feline news, a judge recently ordered to block euthanizing “Boots” the cat. The tabby cat was set to be put down per her owner's Will instructions, when an executor of the estate asked the court to block the order and re-interpret her wishes. The judge did, and ordered to send the cat to a “no-kill” shelter instead.

Pet Practices not always Plaintiff-side

Unfortunately, not all pets are warm, cuddly, and without sin. Some bite. Their attacks can cause severe injury to other pets and people. As such, dog bite practices have a long and established history.

However, Pit Bulls have historically gotten a bad rap for attacks and injuries, and the state of Maryland now imposes strict liability on all Pit Bull owners, with a court of appeals finding they are “inherently dangerous.”

The ruling has sparked significant pro and con debate among pet owners and Pit Bull lovers alike. See the comments section on the CBS site where some have even suggested “Pit Bull profiling” is at play.

It may not be too long before law firms and attorneys practice “Pit Bull defense,” and other “pet defenders” spring up in law practices nationwide.