Categories: animal abuse

Suing in civil law when a person deliberately kills your cat

I was encouraged to write this article for two reasons. Firstly, there is little on the Internet which clearly states how a cat owner can go about suing in civil law for compensation when another person kills their cat deliberately. Secondly, the recent story of two Welsh thugs who killed a person’s cat with their dog prompted me to write the article. The thugs are teenagers and their identities are protected under the criminal law in the UK. They need to be named in my view. The cat’s owner needs some sort of justice beyond the teenagers being punished in criminal law.

It doesn’t matter how the other person kills your cat. The classic example that we see on the Internet is malicious thugs killing cats by throwing them against walls or kicking them or, as mentioned above, setting a dog on a cat.

These will be crimes but I’m concerned here with what the cat owner can personally do to seek recompense.

Follow criminal proceedings

In my considered opinion, you do not need a lawyer to sue the criminals who killed or hurt your cat. You would sue them after the criminal case took place, normally. If you know their names and have good evidence you could sue them before criminal proceedings if, for example, the police were unable to prosecute them for a technical reason.

Of course, if the prosecution service decide not to prosecute it would normally be because of a lack of evidence which will certainly hamper any civil proceedings. You could almost argue that it is essential that a claim in civil law compensation should follow successful criminal proceedings in this instance. However failed criminal proceedings would provide good evidence and the standard of proof is lower in civil cases.

Chattel

Most people realise by now that domestic cats are considered to be chattels under the law. This is an old-fashioned word which means a possession much like any other possession in the household.

There are two branches under the law of tort which are applicable but which a little used nowadays. The first is the tort of trespass to chattels and the second is the tort of conversion. They are very similar.

UK and USA

It is probably reasonable to say that both these branches of the law of tort are applicable both in the USA and the UK. This is because the USA adopted UK law many years ago. There may be some slight differences but essentially they are the same. However, in the USA there are variations in the law among the 50 states and sometimes counties and cities have their own ordinances which may interfere with the federal law concerning torts. However, both the torts mentioned above are fundamental common law remedies and in my opinion they will be applicable across the entirety of United States notwithstanding that there may be some variations between states and lower jurisdictions.

Trespass to chattels

Trespass to chattels concerns a person’s interference with another person’s lawful possession of a chattel. The cat owner owns a chattel: their cat. If another person sets of dog upon their cat and destroys her that has to be regarded as an interference with the cat owner’s lawful possession.

As I understand it, for a successful claim to be made under trespass to chattels the “victim” has to prove that she was dispossessed of her cat or her cat was injured or killed. That would be established if there is good evidence that a specified person, for example, set their dog upon the cat owner’s cat and there was evidence to support it (e.g. video).

Conversion

The other tort is one of conversion. This concerns treating the chattel, in this case the cat, as if they owned the cat when in fact she was owned by somebody else. An example might be if a person cuts down someone’s tree on land owned by another person. Once again, in my opinion, this tort would apply to a person setting a dog upon a cat with the intention of killing the cat.

It may also apply, incidentally, if a person stole a cat and sold it because that would be treating the cat as their own. It is not dissimilar to the crime of theft.

Damages will be small

As a random bred, non-purebred, domestic cat is worth a relatively small sum of money, the action would begin in the Small Claims Court which is user-friendly. These court proceedings are designed to be managed by the plaintiff in person. You are not meant to employ a lawyer because costs will almost invariably be greater than the amount of damages achieved if the case is concluded successfully.

If my cat was killed or injured by another person and I had sufficient evidence and/or the person was prosecuted successfully, I would certainly sue in the Small Claims Court to seek personal satisfaction. It is a way of making a statement and seeking closure. Certainly, punishing a person for killing your cat in the criminal courts does provide justice but a cat owner can go one step further and seek damages herself. Damages would normally be limited to the value of the cat which might be something in the order of £50-£100 (for purebred cats the amount would usually rise to several thousands dollars or pounds depending on the cat and breed). Sometimes, rarely, a plaintiff is awarded damages reflecting emotional distress. There is a case on this in the American courts as I understand it.

I would certainly apply for damages concerning the value of the cat together with damages and compensation for emotional distress on the loss of a valued animal companion.

Note: Comments from trolls will not be published unless they are well argued and polite.



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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • You can sue in civil court and if there has been a criminal judgement the judge will almost always side with the plaintiff. The burden of proof is much lower in civil than criminal court. Damages may be limited to replacement and any expenses incurred trying to save the animal and sometimes reasonable cremation services. Some small claims can award punitive damages if the crime was egregious. Any punitive damages would be capped at the court maxim award usually between 3 thousand and 10 thousand. You can find out your states laws with some simple research although punitive awards may not be listed but available. You can ask in your complaint.
    I wish more people would sue deliberate acts of cruelty. Most people need to realize that if your pet is in the street and hit you will have little claim and in fact you could end up owning damages if the vehicle is damaged. However deliberate use of a car to kill an animal or turning your dog loose on it even if it's in your yard, putting down poison, shooting an animal that is not menacing you or in most states your livestock can get you in trouble legally with the possibility of a civil suit ice cream topper.
    Collecting your award in most civil suits is up to the winner. However the money that they may not want to pay or be able to pay can be used to box up their credit for years. You may have to periodically renew a judgment that has not been collected. You can even put liens on things like homes and cars. IANAL but I had to play one in my own life.
    Letting someone get by with murdering your pet is unacceptable. Small claims filing fees are usually quite small and an even smaller consideration if you want some justice.
    Letting your pet roam is wrong. Just wrong. These little traveler thugs show what your cat or dog is in danger of facing each time they trot out of your sight. However simply being loose and does not give anyone the right to torture, kill or maim your pet. We have civil remedies for bad pet owners too.

  • Sadly, therapy would be a waste of money because people like those two thugs are happy with their lifestyle choices and see nothing wrong with what they do. They are even the ones who brag about the death battles.

    Instead of wasting taxpayer money, toss them in a pen with the dogs they taught to kill. Then, even the playing field by limiting their ability to fight back. They deserve to experience the same thing as their victims.

    • Yes, they deserve to be severely punished. I wish they hadn't been born. The world would be better without them.

  • The reason that more people don't pursue damages in the USA is because then the pet-owner can be fined and convicted of all the animal neglect and animal endangerment laws that exist in every county of every state of the USA. The death of their cat is clear proof that they violated those laws. None of them want to admit guilt that they killed their own cat by letting it roam at will and without supervision. The fault clearly lies with the owner in the USA, as it should.

    • Boy do you have that all wrong. One person breaking the law never justifies someone else breaking the law.
      The fines for letting a pet roam at large where it's illegal for cats is small compared to the wreckage someone like you can and probably will do to themselves and their family.

  • Obviously no amount of money can bring back a beloved feline friend once lost. The importance for me would be seeking justice, although in truth nothing could effect total justice in this case. Thank you for covering this topic Michael. I bookmarked the article. 😢

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