Animal Law

Who's Liable For A Sick Pet?

Your pet is part of the family whether it's a dog, a cat, or a more exotic animal. The trouble is when you buy a pet from a pet store, a breeder, or other merchant, there's a chance you may get a sick animal.

It's heartbreaking to see a cherished companion suffer, but as much as you love your pet, it has no independent legal rights under U.S. law. Rather, it's considered personal property. So any dispute you have with the pet store or breeder is governed by state contract and commercial transaction law.
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The sales agreement between you and the merchant will usually outline the options open to you if you buy a sick or "defective" animal. But even if the contract doesn't outline a clear return or reimbursement policy, the merchant may be willing to compensate you or even exchange the sick animal for another one. If not, you may want to talk to an Animal Law attorney about your state's laws on pet purchases and common law contract remedies. An attorney will be able to tell you whether your state provides specific remedies, such as returning the animal to the store for a refund or reimbursement for reasonable veterinary expenses.

Since the problem of sick pets is not uncommon, some states have disclosure laws that require merchants to disclose facts about an animal's age, health, and history at the time of purchase. Several states not only require these types of disclosures, but also provide specific remedies for the owner if the animal is sick. These laws usually give owners up to two weeks to have the pet examined by a veterinarian. If the veterinarian finds the animal is ill or has a congenital disorder, the owner can:

  • Return the animal and get a refund
  • Exchange the animal and select another, or
  • Keep the animal and be reimbursed for reasonable veterinary costs of trying to cure it

Many of these laws provide additional civil or criminal penalties for merchants who knowingly or intentionally misrepresent an animal's health or fitness.

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