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Home / Case Digests / 99-3263 Rabideau v. City of Racine

99-3263 Rabideau v. City of Racine

“[T]he relationships between a victim and a spouse, parent, child, grandparent, grandchild or sibling are deeply embedded in the organization of our law and society. The emotional loss experienced by a bystander who witnessed the negligent death or injury of one of these categories of individuals is more readily addressed because it is less likely to be fraudulent and is a loss that can be fairly charged to the tortfeasor. The emotional harm occurring from witnessing the death or injury of an individual who falls into one of these relationships is serious, compelling, and warrants special recognition.”

“We further conclude that Rabideau cannot maintain a claim for recovery for the emotional distress caused by negligent damage to her property. Our decision is based upon well-established public policy criteria. We are particularly concerned that were such a claim to go forward, the law would proceed upon a course that had no just stopping point. Humans have an enormous capacity to form bonds with dogs, cats, birds and an infinite number of other beings that are non-human. Were we to recognize a claim for damages for the negligent loss of a dog, we can find little basis for rationally distinguishing other categories of animal companion.”

Further, we must reject plaintiff’s claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress because there is no material issue of fact in the record that suggests that Officer Jacobi acted for the purpose of causing Rabideau emotional harm.”

However, we also believe that the trial court erred in its conclusion that plaintiff’s claim did not seek damages for lost property. Further, because material facts are in dispute concerning, for example, whether the officer was privileged to shoot the dog, the circuit court’s order of summary judgment pursuant to Wis. Stat. sec. 174.01(3) is reversed.

Finally, where plaintiff’s various arguments were made in good faith for an extension, modification or reversal of existing law, her claims were not frivolous and we reverse the trial court’s ruling on that issue.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded.

CONCURRING OPINION: Abrahamson, Ch. J. “Having concluded that the plaintiff’s only remedy is for loss of property, the majority opinion declines to give guidance to the circuit court and litigants about damages for the death of the dog. This issue was not briefed. At least one state has enacted a law that allows up to $4,000 recovery for non-economic damages such as loss of the reasonably expected companionship, love, and affection of a pet resulting from the intentional or negligent killing of the pet. Such a statute allows the legislature to make a considered policy judgment regarding the societal value of pets as companions and to specify the nature of the damages to be awarded in a lawsuit.”

Court of Appeals, Bablitch, J.

Attorneys:

For Appellant: Alan D. Eisenberg, Milwaukee

For Respondent: W. Scott Lewis, Madison


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