What You Should Know about Pet Lemon Laws for Small Claims Court - dummies

What You Should Know about Pet Lemon Laws for Small Claims Court

By Judge Philip Straniere

Because people love their pets like children, small claims cases can arise when problems with our pets do. Pet lemon laws give you, the purchaser, a right to return the animal if the animal is sick, to have your own veterinarian examine the animal, and other protections. In some places, the animal is not referred to as a pet; you’re its human companion or caregiver.

Many states have passed laws protecting consumers who buy pets from pet shops.

The problem is that if you have children, they quickly become attached to the pet, and even though you have a right to return it, this may not be a practical solution. You soon find yourself paying veterinary bills that far exceed the value of the pet.

To get the company you bought the pet from to fork over any money toward its unending medical bills, you must establish that the animal had the condition while in the possession of the pet store and didn’t catch it from your other pets or pick it up in the car on the ride home.

Some breeds are prone to certain health conditions and may be exempt from the law’s protection, assuming you were given notice that this was a possibility. You quickly learn the difference between hereditary and congenital conditions and which are covered.

The law still views animals as personal property, so if the animal dies, you only get the value of the animal. So if you spend several thousands of dollars for an all-American dog (the politically correct term for mutt), don’t expect to recover what you laid out.

If however, the pet is being bought for breeding purposes and is going to be used to generate income for you, you have to establish that so you can get additional damages such as the inability to breed. If not, you get the value of the dog. Some states have passed laws allowing pet owners to recover additional damages for the emotional harm suffered with the loss of the pet.

The pet seller may have tried to reduce your rights by the terms of the contract of sale or exculpatory clauses in which the seller tries to eliminate liability for her wrongful acts. One of the more common ones is to refer you to a veterinarian the pet shop recommends rather than encouraging you to select your own vet. While expedient, it may not be the best course of action.

Even if the seller had you sign a restrictive contract, check to see if your state has a pet lemon law, because that probably negates any such attempts by the seller. In other words, just don’t rely on the terms of the contract. Also, be aware that not all types of pets are covered by the laws. Often birds and fish, small rodents, and more exotic animals are excluded.

Because laws regarding pets vary from state to state, check with local animal rights groups to find out the obligations of pet stores when an animal they sold requires veterinary treatments after purchase.