When Tom Wrynn’s 8-year old Lab Mystie was hit and killed by a car last month, his view was that it was a sad accident. Mystie ran in front of the car on a dark night, and her black coat made her difficult or impossible to see. The driver of the car was in tears, and he consoled her, telling her that it was dark and hard to see and it was not her fault. (The Wrynn family still has Mystie’s daughter Zeta and I hope they have taken steps to keep her from running out into the road. Accidents involving dogs being hit by cars happen all too often, and prevention can save dogs’ lives.)
Not long after Mystie was killed, the family received a letter from Plymouth Rock, the driver’s insurance company, saying that the dog caused the accident and that Wrynn was liable for the damages. The insurance company included a picture of the car, an estimate for repairing it and a bill for $738.13. According to Massachusetts state law, Wrynn is responsible for paying for the damage because the dog caused the accident.
Though it may not be considered a parallel situation legally, I can’t help but compare this to accidents involved people being hit and killed by cars. It’s hard to stomach the thought of a parent or other relative being held financially responsible for damages if the cause of the accident had been a child, someone who is elderly person or any other person.
The insurance company later issued a statement saying that after re-examining the case, they decided to take back their request for Wrynn to pay.
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.