Maryland’s Highest Court Caps Non-Economic Damages for Dog Shot by Police

In a suit filed by a Maryland family whose dog was shot and killed by a police officer, a $1.26 million jury award has been reduced to $7,500. In the decision, Maryland’s Court of Appeals held that an existing state law cap applies to all compensatory damages for the tortious death or injury of a companion animal, not just the economic damages expressly listed in the statute. The decision overruled the state Court of Special Appeals and reverses existing precedent set by that court in the 2014 Brooks v. Jenkins case where it previously held that non-economic damages are not bound by the state legislative cap when gross negligence is involved. After the jury determined that the Reeves’ dog was not attacking the officer at the time of the shooting, their original award included $10,000 for trespass to chattel, $1.25 million for gross negligence ($500,000 in economic damages and $750,000 in noneconomic damages), and no damages for the state constitutional claims. The court hinted that had the jury awarded damages for the Reeves’ state constitutional claims, as in Brooks, those may have withstood scrutiny since such damages are intended to compensate persons for violations of their constitutional rights, not the actual loss of property. It should be noted that had the Reeves’ claims been filed under the US Constitution, any damages awarded would not have been bound by Maryland’s legislative cap.