Tag Archives: cats

Washington court refuses to find a bailment in stray cat case but accepts claims based on conversion, trespass to chattels, and fraud

Damiano v. Lind, 2011 Wash. App. LEXIS 2000 (Aug. 25, 2011), involved “a dispute between next door neighbors over the disappearance of a cat named Boo.” The cat’s owner, Ms. Damiano, heard Boo meowing from the vicinity of Mr. Lind’s garage on the morning of the its disappearance but when she confronted Mr. Lind, he denied seeing the cat. He later admitted to a police officer, however, that he had trapped a cat meeting Boo’s description in a live trap under his porch and later released it. He explained that he used the trap to catch skunks and that he didn’t know that the cat belonged to Ms. Damiano when he released it. Boo was never found.

The Damianos filed a lawsuit against the Linds, alleging claims of bailment, negligence, malicious injury to a pet, trespass to chattels, conversion, outrage, gross negligence, and fraud. The trial judge dismissed all of the charges on summary judgment. On appeal, the court affirmed dismissal on most of the counts but held that it was error to dismiss the claims for conversion, trespass to chattels, and fraud.

Regarding the bailment claim, the court held that in Washington (unlike Vermont), a person who finds a stray pet is under no obligation or involuntary bailment requiring him to return the pet instead of releasing it. Nor is there any general duty of care to return a stray pet such that the Linds could have been held negligent for failing to reunite Boo with his owners. The court also rejected the Damianos’ claim of malicious injury to a pet because there was no proof of either mailce or injury, as well as their claim of outrage, because the evidence was insufficient to prove either extreme and outrageous conduct or an intention to inflict emotional distress.

Because the neighbor admitted that he had trapped the cat and released it, however, the court held that the Damianos had raised sufficient questions of fact to merit a trial on their claims of conversion and trespass to chattels. Both of these torts, the court explained, require an act of willfull interference with a chattel, without any justification, that deprives the owner of possession or use. The court emphasized that these claims do not require a showing of bad faith or an intent to deprive, and held that Mr. Lind intentionally interfered with the Damianos’ right of possession by trapping Boo. Mr. Lind’s asserted justifications were found to be insufficient, as he failed to provide evidence that cats in general, or Boo in particular, were “specially injurious” to his property such that they could be considered abatable public nuisances, and he did not have the necessary state permits for trapping skunks or other wild animals.

The court also found that there was sufficient evidence to support the Damianos’ cause of action for fraud, as Mr. Lind falsely denied seeing a cat when Ms. Damiano confronted him about hearing Boo in his garage. The court held that Ms. Damiano had a right to rely on Mr. Lind’s statement that he not seen Boo and that she did, in fact, rely on this statement during the following weeks as she continued to search for her lost cat.

When your neighbor shoots your cat, sue for damages

A California man whose cat, Pumpkin, was shot with a pellet gun can seek damages from the alleged shooter to cover thousands of dollars of medical bills. The appellate court refused to limit liability to the fair market value of the cat (basically zero), saying that to hold otherwise would be “inhuman.” Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether the veterinary expenses will be deemed reasonable, and it’s quite possible that Pumpkin’s owner won’t be awarded the full amount he’s seeking.

Kimes v. Grosser (Cal. App. 1st Dist. May 31, 2011)

– Bob Egelko, Brentwood man cleared to sue over cat’s shooting, San Francisco Chronicle, Jun. 2, 2011

In related news, a Brooklyn man was charged with reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, weapon possession, and animal torture after he shot his neighbor’s pitbull with a paintball gun. The man, who was Swiss, allegedly told his neighbor that “in Switzerland, we train our dogs not to bark.”

– Jamie Schram and Andy Canpbell, Yelping pooches paintballed, N.Y. Post, Jun. 17, 2011.