Friday, May 26, 2006
Spokane, WA - Division Three of the Washington Court of Appeals yesterday recognized a new cause of action for those whose companion animals have been maliciously injured or killed. Womack v. Von Rardon, 24221-8-III, May 25, 2006 (Div. III, published).
On July 20, 2003, Jason Brumback, Rusty Von Rardon, and Jayson Anderson took Max, a feline cared for by Spokane resident Bernadette Womack, to Centennial Middle School, doused him in gasoline, and then set him on fire. Good Samaritans rescued him but not before he suffered extensive burns. His dire injuries resulted in euthanasia.
A lawsuit filed October 23, 2003 claimed that minor adults Jason Brumback and Rusty Von Rardon maliciously tortured Max Womack. Both minors were found guilty of first-degree animal cruelty in September 2003 and ordered to perform community service at an animal control facility in Spokane County. Neither SpokAnimal nor SCRAP agreed to permit them to serve time with their operations. The lawsuit also named Bonnie Mastain Rardon, mother to Rusty Von Rardon, and Donald G. Brumback and Susan L. Brumback, parents to Jason Brumback for negligent supervision of their sons.
Although it was originally believed that Brumback and Von Rardon acted alone, through discovery, Jason Brumback admitted that a third person, young adult Jayson Anderson, participated in abducting Max from Ms. Womack’s property and attempting to torture him at Centennial Middle School. Based on this revelation, Ms. Womack amended the complaint to name Jayson Anderson as a co-defendant.
The Brumbacks and Ms. Womack settled out of court, but Ms. Womack obtained a default judgment against the remaining defendants.
Spokane Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque awarded Ms. Womack $5000 for the value of Max and her emotional distress. He dismissed various claims, including one for outrage.
On May 16, 2005, Ms. Womack appealed Judge Leveque’s ruling to the Court of Appeals, claiming that the court erred in several respects.
In this published opinion, the Court of Appeals said the following:
“For the first time in Washington, we hold malicious injury to a pet can support a claim for, and be considered a factor in measuring a person’s emotional distress damages. The damages are consistent with actual and intrinsic value concepts as found in Pickford because, depending upon the particular case facts, harm may be caused to a person’s emotional well-being by malicious injury to that person’s pet as personal property. We do not interpret the trial court’s final reference to value as limiting the measure of damages to pet fair market value.”
This opinion is important for Washingtonians in the following respects: