Unfortunately there are instances where things dear to us, such as family heirlooms or pets, are stolen, destroyed, or killed. Most states only allow plaintiffs in a personal injury claim to collect based on the fair market value (what a willing seller would accept from a willing buyer) of the property that has been damaged. There are however a few states that allow for a plaintiff to recover damages based on the sentimental value of certain items that have been destroyed. Indiana first recognized a claim for sentimental value in Campins v. Capels, a Court of Appeals case in 1984.1
The broad definition of sentimental refers to being governed by feeling, sensibility or emotional.2‑The courts have used a slightly different definition when talking about damages for sentimental value which will be discussed below. Indiana courts have said that in order for a sentimental value claim to be made the item question must be one that “is general capable of generating sentimental feelings, not just emotions particular to the owner”.3
The two main cases involving sentimental value in Indiana are Campins (IN Court of Appeals, 1984) and Mitchell (IN Court of Appeals, 1997). In Campins a man was robbed and among the stolen items were three national racing championship rings and a wedding band. The court found in this case that the standard measure of damages, fair market value, was inadequate due to the items having no market value. The court decided that in cases like Campins sentimental value could be taken into consideration when determining the actual value. In discussing the types of items sentimental value could be recovered for the court explained, “we are referring to the feelings generated by items of almost purely sentimental value, such as heirlooms, family papers and photographs, handicrafts, and trophies. What we are referring to basically are those items generally capable of generating sentimental feelings, not just emotions peculiar to the owner.”4 This has vastly limited the kinds of items that sentimental value can be recovered for.
In Mitchell a young woman sued her stepmother for depriving her of photos and videos of her deceased father. The court allowed a claim for sentimental value and explained that in assessing damages the person asserting the claim is, ““in the best position to judge the amount of her damages.”5 This meant that the jury could take the plaintiffs opinion of the sentimental value of the items into consideration.
In a more recent Lachenman (IN Court of Appeals, 2006) case the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that sentimental value cannot be recovered for the loss of a family pet. The court reasoned that while the family pet may have sentimental value, its value is not purely sentimental and therefore damages should be based on fair market value of the pet.6 The court further explained that sentimental value claims are only proper when an item’s market value cannot be determined due to a lack of comparable items being readily available on the market. In referring back to the Campins case, the rings that were destroyed were trophies made specifically for that event and only the plaintiff owned such rings so it would be impossible to know what those rings were going for on the open market. On the other hand, as cruel as it sounds, someone can go to a pet store on any given day and find out how much a Labrador Retriever is selling for. So the answer to the original question (Can you recover for the sentimental value of your pet?) would be no, at least not in Indiana.
There have been a few cases in which other states have allowed for sentimental value to be recovered for the loss of a pet. In La Porte v. Associates, a 1964 Florida Supreme Court case it was determined that an owner’s affection for a pet is a real thing and the owner should be able to recover for the damage caused by its destruction. Further, in Jankoski v. Preiser Animal Hosp., Ltd., a 1987 Illinois Court of Appeals case the court in valuing a dog that has been killed it is correct to take into account the sentimental value the dog had to the owner. These two cases illustrate that other states are willing to recognize claims for sentimental value of pets, maybe one day Indiana will follow suit.
As you can see Indiana courts have been very strict in determining when sentimental value may be recovered. Indiana has said that you cannot recover for the sentimental value of your pet, but courts in some states such as Florida7and Illinois8 have said claims for sentimental value of a lost pet should be permitted. Maybe one day Indiana will follow. Contact an experienced accident attorney to discuss possible property damage claims (Repairs, Diminished Value, Sentimental Value or replacement costs).
1 Campins v. Capels, 461 N.E.2d 712 (Ind. Ct. App. 1984)
2Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1963)
3 Campins v. Capels, 461 N.E.2d 712 (Ind. Ct. App. 1984)