Skip to comments.Judge Awards $45,480 In Cat's Death
Posted on 05/09/2005 6:46:54 AM PDT by MississippiMasterpiece
Paula Roemer knows most people don't understand her passion for animals.
Some of her North Seattle neighbors aren't thrilled about the crows she attracts to her back yard with bird seed, she says. When she rescued a scraggly kitten abandoned on a pathway while she was vacationing in Israel 13 years ago, people reacted with disdain.
So when a neighbor's dog mauled and killed that same beloved cat, Yofi, last year, Roemer barely mentioned it to people she knew. But now she feels that she found one person who understood: a judge.
Last week, Seattle District Court Judge Barbara Linde ordered the dog's owner to pay $45,480.12 to Roemer for the cat's death.
"Not too many [people] value a cat," said Roemer, a retired, 71-year-old former junior-high-school teacher, who lives alone except for her animals. "You know what I'm saying: 'It's just a cat.' And I'm very, very thankful we had a judge who knew that a cat had some value."
The judgment may be among the largest amounts nationwide in lawsuits over the loss of pets, according to Roemer's attorney, Adam Karp of Bellingham, a specialist in cases involving animals.
"I do think it's the largest in our state for any type of animal, excluding, say, a Thoroughbred or other commercially valuable pets, or service animals," Karp said. "And I'm pretty sure it's the largest for a cat."
In 2003, a Snohomish County couple was awarded $25,000 in emotional damages when someone who was supposed to care for a horse and goats instead sold them for slaughter.
In a recent Texas case, the owner of a Mini-Schnauzer was awarded $10,000 in emotional distress when the dog escaped from a Petco grooming parlor and was hit by a car, according to Associated Press reports. In one New York case, the court found that a good dog's value increased with age, and its owner should be compensated accordingly upon the pet's untimely death.
The defendant in the cat case, Wallace Gray, pleaded guilty to an animal-control violation last October in Seattle Municipal Court. Court documents say he admitted that his dog killed a neighbor's cat in February 2004 "due in part to my negligence."
Gray said he just learned of the financial judgment yesterday from a reporter. "This is way out of hand. This is absolutely crazy," he said.
Gray said he had already served 21 days in jail and three months under house arrest for the animal-control violation. He wasn't living in the house with his dog at the time of the attack, he said, and the acquaintance who was taking care of his dog left town before the trial.
"I'm sorry she lost her cat, but I had no control over it," Gray said.
Gray added that he thought the punishment was excessive considering that dogs and cats are natural enemies.
"Cats eat birds and dogs eat cats," he said.
Gray did not appear in court for the case and was not represented by a lawyer, Karp said.
Judge Linde could not be reached for comment.
While Roemer predicts she won't collect a nickel from the judgment, she and her attorney take the ruling as a message that even cats count. She plans to give any money from the case to an animal-protection group.
Her lawyer says the public perception of cats puts them at a disadvantage.
"I think there tends to be a culture that says dogs are more of man's best friends and cats are aloof and can't bond," Karp said. "But if anyone has ever shared their bonds with a cat, they know that's utter nonsense. I think our society tends to devalue cats, and I think the judgment recognizes that cats, too, can mean the world to people."
Still, Roemer said, that can't erase the painful memory of what happened last year in her back yard, or the loss of a cat that slept in her bed, curled up against her stomach, nearly every day since she rescued it.
Roemer was in Israel visiting friends in 1992 when she came across a heap of matted fur covered with flies. Roemer stopped to offer the cat some water from a bottle cap.
"Here's this one cat that saw me as a savior and I couldn't walk away from her," she said.
She named the cat Yofi and finagled her way through customs and back into the United States, with the tiny white and black kitten in a pet carrier.
Back in Seattle, Yofi became a fixture in Roemer's house, she said, befriending other cats and dogs she adopted.
Then, Roemer said, one day in February 2004 she heard screeching coming from her back yard and saw a neighbor's dog, a chow, holding Yofi in its jaws and shaking the cat. Roemer said she tried to rescue Yofi but lost sight of the cat while trying to save another one of her cats and get the dog out of the yard. She found the cat dead in another neighbor's yard the next day.
Roemer said Gray's dog had repeatedly escaped from its yard before the incident, partly because a fence on the side of the yard had large gaps.
Roemer said she sued Gray out of grief and frustration.
"I didn't go to court to get money," she said. "I could either burn his house down or I could go and shoot his dogs in front of him and shoot him, or I could shoot myself. So I decided to be rational and get a lawyer."
Now, the cremated ashes of Yofi rest in a small ceramic jar on a table in the living room of her small Northgate house. Behind it stands a large card with Yofi's name written across it and a montage of photos of Yofi inside.
The house is a testimony to her devotion to animals. A framed, hand-painted portrait of eight cats she has owned hangs in her bedroom. Boxes of cat-food cans rest on a spare bed in another room. A piece of cardboard sits in her living room near the television with detailed instructions on how to take care of the animals in case she can't.
Roemer still has the company of her other animals, a Husky mix named Ginger and three black-and-white cats, including the latest addition, Patsy Cline. She adopted that cat several months after Yofi died, when it cried one day as she looked at it.
She knows some people may find her odd for her love for animals. But she's past making apologies.
"It sounds crazy that I value my animals more than I do people. I help out people, too," she said. "It's just that in my personal life, I get along better with animals."
You haven't priced Maine Coons or Bengals lately, have you? I had a Maine Coon that I got from a shelter (w/o papers); when he died of old age I looked into getting another one, and even pet-quality are more than $500. Bengals are the ones that look like teeny weeny leopards and tigers, and they start at $700 and keep right on going.
Never apologize for pinging me! Highlight of my day. Just busy at work. Glad somebody's minding the store!
Children are not property (unless you're with PETA)
How about endangered species?
Absolutely. Shoot. Shovel. Shut-Up
The UPS truck?
If he illegally parked his truck on your property you have every right to have it towed away
Ingrid Newkirk must be a poster at FR.
Gee, I may just have to go get myself a cat...
Thanks for the ping. I like cats and I'm sorry her cat was killed but this judgment is ridiculous.
How do you justify the amount of the award, though -- $45,000. Why not $4,500? Why not $450,000? How do you arrive at that particular figure? Shouldn't there be some objective criteria for making awards? I can't find any in this case.
To do a proper job of that, we'd need to look at the court records for the case. Clearly, there was some basis for the judgment; I don't claim to know what it is.
That being said, I'm confident that there were objective criteria which were applied by the court.
On the contrary, there can be. Please recall the O.J. Simpson case, wherein Mr. Simpson was judged not guilty by a criminal court, and subsequently held liable by a civil court.
The only problem is that a convicted murderer may not have any money to seize - otherwise, you'd see more civil suits.
I think the amount of the judgment is excessive, but at the same time, I have no patience for someone whose dog "repeatedly" escaped from his yard to cause havoc. People who are not going to be responsible for pets should not have them, period. If the dog had escaped for the first time and this happened, I'd feel differently, but it sounds as if the guy just never bothered to repair his fence. There should be some means of resolving it. Maybe at a minimum his dog(s) should be confiscated and not returned to him? What is he going to say, oh, that's so cruel to deprive me of my pet? That's the fate his irresponsibility inflicted on his neighbor. Of course, people like that generally just get another pet. I think perhaps a Court order banning him from having any pets at that property would be fair.
Great news, certainly! If only the shafting could be more severe...
Doesn't the absurdity of that register to you at all.
But I don't regard it as absurd. I think it's a correct decision by a just court.
It's exactly like accidentally backing over someone's garbage can and having to pay $25,000 in damages.
You equate the cat with an inanimate object, a position consistent with your previous posts. I non-concur. So did the court.
Gratuitous high five implemented.
According to the sign the cat was born in Israel. Was the cat Jewish or Muslim. Maybe a hate crime?
That being said, I'm confident that there were objective criteria which were applied by the court.
Why are you so confident in the judge? And may I ask why you come down so strongly on the side of the plaintiff in this case, especially when you yourself admit you don't know what the basis of the judgement was. It just comes across like you have a vested interest in or an inherent bias towards this case. You seem to accept at face value that this was perfectly OK.
Uh, no, there are often "wrongful death" civil proceedings when the guilty party has money. See OJ and a number of others.
Don't waste your time with morons even very tiny little ones.
Last week, Seattle District Court Judge Barbara Linde ordered the dog's owner to pay $45,480.12 to Roemer for the cat's death
Will somebody please come kill my cat... I'll split the money with you.
There's that absolutely gorgeous cat of yours again! Just beautiful.....sorry I've forgotten his name.
She probably just totalled up her cat food, vet bills, and other cat expenditures to arrive at that total. Animals are surprisingly expensive to keep - my cat has cost me $2500 in vet bills alone in the last 18 months. A "replacement" cat is likely to incur similar (to her old cat's) vetrinary expense, so that is a reasonable assumption of replacement value, in addition to the purchase/importation value of the cat. The idea of this kind of lawsuit is to have your loss due to the other party's negligence be "made whole", in other words, all the money you spent on the item of property to enhance its value or to maintain its value must be taken into account when determining the actual "replacement price".
It was the same with my recent car crash case - the amount we asked for was based upon replacement value of the car as determined by the fair market price of an identical-model, similar-condition vehicle plus all of the (documented) modifications made to it. My lawyer's fees were taken into account. Also, the loss of use of the vehicle was taken into account (x dollars per day vehicle was not operational due to negligent idiot, etc, etc.). As in this case, the other party, an insurance company, did not show up. Oh well, their loss, I got what I wanted and the award was certainly reasonable.
I don't see that $45K is an irrational award with my cat-owning and legal system experience.
I'd also add that if the guy had showed up, he could have stated reasons why the award should have been lower, offered to settle out of court, or even had the judgement limited to "a replacement cat and legal fees".
It is financially dangerous to go to court when you are being sued, but it is both financially dangerous and *stupid* to not show up, as Home Depot found out.
I disagree with that definition of replacement value (while acknowledging that it may be a legally correct one). The vet bills, cat food and other routine expenses would have been incurred with either the old cat or a new one. They are not additional expenses precipitated by the loss of the old cat.
Likewise, if someone totals my car, I expect enough money to buy a new one (including inflation, etc.), but I don't expect money to pay for my gas, oil changes, tuneups, etc., because those are expenses I would have had anyway.
Exactly. The dog should be shot and he should pay the costs for it. But 45K is far to much for a cat
I can only assume that you are a twisted PETA type person.
I see no problem with someone taking down people who are trying to take him down. The courts are out of control
I was simplifying a bit - regular, commonsense maintenance that would be common to both the original property and any replacement are generally not covered, but extraordinary maintenance costs (a documented new/rebuilt engine and transmission in a car, for example) are - if you are talking about defensible amounts when calculating an award. You wouldn't want to have your 1998 Jaguar that you just put a new engine in replaced by a 1998 Jaguar with a 100,000 mile old engine, would you? No, that wouldn't be a fair replacement.
In the case of a cat, things like chipping (the microchip ID thing), spaying/neutering (and not by the amateurs at the SPCA), and declawing (something I disagree with, but which is done by many cat owners) are all "supernormal" expenses that would have to be spent to bring the "replacement cat" up to the "spec" of the old one. All of them cost a significant amount of money - the operations I just mentioned can easily run over $1500 depending on the vet and the locale. "Normal" vaccinations and food would not normally be a defensible claim item.
Also, remember that if the other party is not there to dispute your claims, it is legal to claim all your expenditures, period. It is the responsibility of the defendant to point out why a judgement is actually excessive. All the judge is supposed to do is look at your claim and determine if it is fair or not. Remember, this wasn't a jury trial, where 12 random people can choose ridiculous amounts. She had to come up with some factual basis for her claim and she did. The fact that some of it would have been stricken if the other party had been there to object does not invalidate her request.
For the record, I didn't include costs of normal maintenance in my recent court case, much to the dismay of my lawyer. However, I don't have a problem with someone else doing so if the other person is too stupid to show up. Call it a stupidity tax.
"Now where is my cat gonna get $50?
Will somebody please come kill my cat... I'll split the money with you.
It probably would have been much lower IF THE GUY HAD SHOWN UP IN COURT. Call it a stupidity tax.
OK, that seems reasonable then. Thanks for explaining it to me! I'm not necessarily agreeing (nor disagreeing) with the $45,000 amount, but considering the defendant chose not to show up, I can see how a clever plaintiff could maximize the total.
I do have an inherent bias. I like cats.
Twisted? No. But I do have spin 1/2.
That statement appears to suggest that you oppose the rule of law. I don't believe I'd care to make statements like that.
"Roemer was in Israel visiting friends in 1992 when she came across a heap of matted fur covered with flies. Roemer stopped to offer the cat some water from a bottle cap."
Yep, sounds like a $30K cat to me!
And another reason to dislike cats!
Justice was served. Rest in peace Yofi, and may God assuage Ms. Roemer's loss.
"That statement appears to suggest that you oppose the rule of law. I don't believe I'd care to make statements like that.
Obey at all costs. I hear and I obey. You wish is my command. *walks off cliff because he was told to do so*
Too bad cat's don't have souls. There is no kitty heaven.
Per the article:
Roemer said, one day in February 2004 she heard screeching coming from her back yard and saw a neighbor's dog, a chow, holding Yofi in its jaws and shaking the cat. Roemer said she tried to rescue Yofi but lost sight of the cat while trying to save another one of her cats and get the dog out of the yard. She found the cat dead in another neighbor's yard the next day. Roemer said Gray's dog had repeatedly escaped from its yard before the incident, partly because a fence on the side of the yard had large gaps.
The dog was in the cat owner's yard. This award may be excessive when viewed strictly as compensation for the loss of the cat, but it's quite appropriate as punishment for someone who keeps a large dog in a yard with gaps in the fence large enough for the dog to repeatedly escape. The dog owner should be glad it was only a cat that his dog got hold of. He'd be paying a heck of a lot more if it had gotten hold of a human toddler -- which it could just as easily have done.
Judgements like this should be a regular thing. People would soon start getting the message that you either have to have a solid fence, or you can't have a big dog. And fewer toddlers would get mauled or killed.
What would be even better is major fines and a week or two in jail just for owning a dog that gets loose when you obviously don't have a fence capable of containing it. Sticking a large aggressive dog in a yard with a fence that's got holes bigger than the dog in it, is a lot like driving drunk -- playing roulette with other people's lives.
"However, if it's something, or one, you care deeply about, then why not?"
Pets are property, period. I don't want the state to start to legislate that pets are more than property. As soon as they do, we end up with constitutional protections for pigs in the state constitutions!
That comes from the owner of the best dog in the world!
"The cat in question was the gift I gave to my wife for our engagement.."
What is your cat's name? D-I-A-M-O-N-D?
I woonder about that...
Good points. Why is the dog owner considered negligent for the dog running loose, but the cat owner is not also considered negligent for the same thing? If she wanted to properly protect her cat from loose dogs, she should have a fenced in yard. What would she have done if a racoon or skunk killed her cat?
I dunno, it's a bit... neurotic, but not particularly crazy.
"Gratuitous high five implemented."
Are you sure you want to applaude the elevation of animals as more than property? How does it feel to nail the planks into PETA's platform?
If you truly believe that, then it sounds like you are the one who is certifiable as a mental case.
I am glad you find him attractive. He gos by the name Bob. We got him from the animal shelter and cant think of a reason how or why he ended up there. I will tell TheBob he has a new fan. Have a great day!