December 6, 2021

Lola the dog tests old precedents at State High Court

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Bob Monyak's Dog. Handout photo 2-21-2014

Bob Monyak’s Dog. Handout photo 2-21-2014

By Catheryn Hayes Tucker, From Daily Report

Lawyers at the Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday debated whether the law should value a family dog more like a mule or an heirloom painting.

The dog in question was Lola, a small mixed-breed dachshund who died in 2013 after, her owners claim, a luxury boarding facility mistakenly gave her the wrong arthritis medicine.

A lawyer for the defendant kennel cited an 1879 case about a mule to argue that animals are property and worth no more than their fair market value before injury. That would mean Lola, as a mixed-breed rescue dog, was worth far less than the $68,000 her owners spent on veterinary bills and travel expenses in a doomed effort to save her.

Lawyer Robert Monyak, representing himself and his wife as the owners of Lola, pointed to a 1941 case about a family heirloom that said the damages should be based on an object’s actual value.

Robert and Elizabeth Monyak, who are both lawyers, sued the Barking Hound Village and its Buckhead boarding facility, The Inn, in Fulton County State Court alleging negligence and fraud. They claimed the facility poisoned their dog and then covered up the mistake by destroying records.

The case is being handled by Robert Monyak and his partner, Jonathan Peters, of Peters & Monyak, which handles medical malpractice defense.

Judge Eric Richardson denied Barking Hound’s motion for summary judgment, but granted an interlocutory appeal. The Court of Appeals agreed with the Monyaks’ method of valuing her life, which would allow them to present evidence of her medical expenses. Barking Hound appealed to the Supreme Court, contending the Court of Appeals was wrong about how to value a dog’s life.

Barking Hound’s attorney, Joel McKie of Hall Booth Smith, opened his argument by saying he cares about dogs. “Our family pets play a key role in our everyday lives,” he told the court.

McKie went on to argue that the court should be guided by Atlanta & W.P.R. Co. v. Hudson, 62 Ga. 679, which set a market value cap on animals. He also cited Southern Railway Co. v. Stearns, 8 Ga. App 111 (1910), in which the Court of Appeals held an animal owner could not recover veterinary expenses that exceeded the animal’s pre-injury market value. That case involved an injured horse.

McKie contended that Lola had no market value because she was not a pure breed, and the Monyaks didn’t purchase her but rescued her from a shelter.

Justice Harold Melton was the first to question McKie’s contention, asking, “Wouldn’t that eliminate any recovery for a mixed-breed dog?”

The answer was yes. “That seems like a harsh position,” McKie allowed. But he added that not imposing the market value cap would have dire unintended future effects, allowing pet owners to claim damages for unreasonable expenses and drive up the cost of insurance for animal clinics and boarding services.

McKie suggested that Lola’s claimed value rose only because of the Monyaks’ willingness to spend money trying to save her with dialysis and trips to a special clinic in Florida. “The value of the animal went up because of the Monyaks’ willingness to spend and their ability to spend,” McKie said. “If the dog hadn’t suffered a cardiac arrest in 2013, we might be looking at $200,000 or $300,000.”

Barking Hound also asked the Supreme Court to reverse the Court of Appeals and the trial judge on the decision not to grant the defense motion for summary judgment to throw out the case.

IMAGE:Bob Monyak’s dog Lola

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