A Leader In Animal Bailment, Lien And Seizure Issues
When it comes to animal law, the subject of bailments is representative of how, in our emerging jurisprudence, we may still treat animals as property. Even so, at other times, what was once considered animal property is moving toward an interim category between a pet as only property and a pet as a family member. Evidence of movement toward this interim category is the states’ establishment of animal welfare laws, as well as the legislative passage of anticruelty laws.
In a traditional bailment, the owner of the animal, typically the bailor, delivers possession of the companion animal to the bailee. The bailee, who will be paid for services provided, has an obligation to comply with a reasonable standard of care. Once the animal is delivered, if the bailee fails to return the animal as contemplated by the bailment agreement, including if the animal is lost or stolen, was not given adequate food, or returns a damaged animal, the bailee may be liable to the bailor. Bailment claims may be brought, for example, against boarding facilities, pet hotels or pet groomers.
While in theory, the same bailment principles would apply to veterinarians rendering medical services, veterinarians are treated under medical malpractice standards if they are providing veterinary rather than boarding services. Veterinarians are held to the same medical malpractice standard as medical doctors.
Contact Barbara Gislason for questions about bailments, including questions about a contract you signed and whether any exclusions set forth in the contract are enforceable.
The essence of a lien is the right to take possession of animal property to secure a debt payment. As strange as it sounds, the same types of possessory liens that apply to car mechanics also apply in a companion animal context. Even though Americans are spending in excess of $50 billion each year on their companion animals, and many think of their pets as family members, the above described commercial practices may affect the fate of a commercially valuable companion animal, including in a bankruptcy context. If, for example, an antique store is involved in a bankruptcy proceeding, and parrots live at the antique store, the birds’ lives could be in jeopardy behind a locked door as the slow wheels of the law proceed.
An owner may not be able to get an animal back when other types of debts are involved, too. For example, if you place your horse in a barn or your cat with a veterinarian and do not pay the bill, the individual or entity with possession of your animal may have legal rights to keep the animal unless their lien is satisfied. When a possessory lien applies to a horse, this type of lien is called an agister lien or an agricultural lien. There are also boarder liens for those who offer horse boarding or training services.
In these types of situations, there can be a disagreement about contract provisions, the quality of services rendered, and there can be miscommunications about the reasonable value of services rendered. In some cases, an individual who wants their animal back may be vulnerable to an unscrupulous business person. If you are having trouble getting your animal back, or an animal is at risk in a bankruptcy situation, contact Barbara Gislason. Many times, once dealing with a lawyer, unreasonable people become more cooperative.
Not all liens are legal. The answer may depend on state statutes and case law. Most commonly, liens are asserted by veterinarians or boarding facilities. In some cases, if a lien is not timely paid, the person failing to pay the lien may lose control and ownership rights. It is worth pointing out to the lien holder that procedures to sell a horse require compliance with a variety of legal requirements. It is prudent to seek legal advice before acting. Barbara can help you keep a cool head.
Seizures Of Animals
With growing public awareness of hoarding and animal cruelty, beliefs or reports of mistreatment of animals may result in animal seizure by animal control or law enforcement officers. Depending on the severity of the seized animal’s condition, it is possible that one or more of the seized animals may be euthanized.
Although exceptions may apply, the general rule is that the owner has the right to a constitutional substantive and procedural due process opportunity before a final disposition of the companion animal or pet can be made. In some instances, if the owner does not take immediate steps to reclaim their animal and pay required fees, title to the animal may shift to the state after the legal hold period is met and the state would then have disposition authority. There is also the risk that notwithstanding a hold period requirement, animals could be euthanized based upon public health or other criteria. Barbara advises anyone whose animal has been seized to contact her immediately.