Of doggie damages and companionship with sheep

Overlawyered has the story that has Massachusetts lawyers abuzz. As reported in today’s Boston Globe, a family whose dog was killed by leaking electricity from an old NStar Electric lamppost site has turned down NStar’s offer of $200,000 in “comfort money” and says it will sue unless it receives $740,000 from the utility — an amount equal to the annual salary of NStar’s CEO.

If you want to see what Mass. lawyers are saying about the story, you can find the discussion here. (Click “Read Messages,” then scroll down to “Damages for death of dog.”

Now here’s what Overlawyered doesn’t mention:

  • There is actually relevant caselaw in Mass., Krasnecky v. Meffen, in which plaintiffs sought damages for emotional distress and loss of companionship following the killing of their sheep. They lost, in part because they did not actually witness the killings.
  • In the case reported today, the dog’s 13-year-old owner was present and witnessed the electrocution.
  • This is the third dog death in Boston since 2000 caused by stray voltage. The next victim might not be a dog.
  • The family would donate most of the $750,000 to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Rescue League.

At first glance, this sounds like the kind of story that gives lawyers a bad name. But maybe, as the family’s lawyer suggests, only a sufficiently harsh financial sanction will force the utility to resolve the problem and prevent further injuries.