Articles Posted in New Hampshire

New Jersey recently wrestled with a question of interest to all pet lovers. In McDougall v. Lamm, the plaintiff asked the court to decide what her pet was worth.

The facts of the case are simple, and our law firm frequently responds to calls like this. (We don’t handle them but we are glad to talk to you about it because we love animals, too.) The plaintiff’s dog was attacked by a larger dog, who picked it up, shook it, and dropped it to the ground, dead. The plaintiff saw her dog die. She filed a lawsuit against the attacking dog’s owner, who admitted that he was responsible for her damages. The court had to decide what her damages were.

The opinion touches on a number of issues, including the “zone of danger” rule (whether a plaintiff must be physically injured to recover for emotional damages received by watching another person suffer); the legal value of a dead pet; and whether a human can claim emotional damages for the death of a pet.

A few extra facts—the plaintiff told the court that she purchased her half-poodle/half-maltese nine years earlier for $200.00, and that she believed she could purchase a similar new puppy today for about $1,400.00. She of course testified that the dog was loved, knew many tricks, and was with her much of the day, particularly because she did not work out of the house.

The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s emotional damages claim, noting that New Jersey did not recognize such a claim in the context of a pet’s death. The court rendered a verdict of $5,000, noting that the replacement cost alone would not compensate the plaintiff for the “loss of a well-trained pet.” Even though the court stated that it did not grant emotional damages, I think that’s what it did here. A quick internet review shows that these dogs live an average of 14-18 years, so this dog had another four to eight years of life. It cost $200.00. The purchase of a brand new dog, though untrained, would cost $1,400.00. I bet she could get a trained maltipoo for $2,000 without any trouble. It seems to me that the court awarded her $3,000 in emotional distress damages, without directly calling it that. Now, if the court believed that emotional distress damages were legally proper, maybe it would have awarded more. Sadly, it ruled (as did the appellate court), that such emotional damages were improper.

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Medical malpractice lawyers for a Dartmouth-Hitchcock Clinic emergency-room surgeon who was ordered by Merrimack County Superior Court jurors to pay $1.95 million in a medical malpractice case say they will appeal the jury’s decision.

The Plaintiff has been blind since the emergency surgery to repaired his broken leg after a car crash on Interstate 89 in 2003. Plaintiff’s medical malpractice attorney argued at trial that the Plaintiff should have been given blood to stabilize his condition. Because of the blood loss, the nerves in Plaintiff’s brain controlling sight were oxygen-deprived and died, resulting in his blindness.

You can read more about this story here.

The Eagle Tribune from the “Live Free or Die” state of New Hampshire has an interesting article on motorcycle helmets and New Hampshire’s refusal to implement mandatory helmet laws.

In a few days, Motorcycle Week kicks off 300,000 visitors from June 14 to 22. If the average person spends $1,000, that is a $300 million dollar infusion in the economy. I would suspect Motorcycle Week would go elsewhere if New Hampshire changed their law, which would have a lot of pro-business lobbyist up in arms. But 27 people died in 2003 (the most recent data I have seen) in New Hampshire in motorcycle accidents. How many of those people were not wearing helmets?
The most serious accident cases our accident lawyers see disproportionately involve motorcycle accidents. At some point, New Hampshire needs to give up Motorcycle Week in exchange for Living Motorcyclist Future, $300 million or no.

A recent Nashua Telegraph article suggests the venue in which the suit is tried plays a pivotal role in its outcome in New Hampshire. According to newspaper’s data, not only is New Hampshire a more conservative state compared to the national average but the degree of a jury’s defense-friendliness fluctuates wildly from county to county.

The Telegraph compiled data from four major courts in the state: Merrimack County, Rockingham County, and Hillsborough County (dividing Hillsborough into Nashua and Manchester). They discovered that while juries found in favor of plaintiffs in 53 percent of the cases filed in the countries 75 most populous counties, only 41 percent of cases tried in Nashua and 44 percent in Manchester resulted in successful plaintiffs. Merrimack County and Rockingham County tended more towards the national average, weighing in at 52 percent and 49 percent respectively. The difference between Nashua and the national average is even more striking when it comes to medical malpractice cases. According to a New Hampshire Bureau of Justice study, 26 percent of medical malpractice cases find in favor of the Plaintiff, however only 13 percent of the medical malpractice cases filed in Nashua end favorably for the plaintiff. Actually, favorably is misleading: the average jury verdict was $7,000 in the three cases I which the plaintiff prevail. In a medical malpractice case, the real scorecard shows this a loss. These verdicts will cover about 1/10 of the expenses incurred by the New Hampshire medical malpractice lawyer that tried the case.

The study also showed that New Hampshire juries are conservative when they do decide in favor of the Plaintiff. Although awards reach at least $1 million dollars in 8 percent of jury awards nationally, Nashua has seen just one verdict over $1 million, and none of the other New Hampshire counties in the study come close to the 8 percent marker. One-fifth of the awards in Nashua are for $5,000 or less, and less than 30 percent ever exceed $50,000.