Sick Animal Liability: Pet “Lemon” Laws

puppy lemon laws

Getting a new pet should be a joyous occasion. Pets are often a significant investment of time, resources, and emotions. Pet owners bond with their pets, and they typically become a part of the family. Unfortunately, people sometimes purchase pets who are later found to be diseased or defective. Many states have developed pet purchase protection laws, also known as “puppy lemon laws,” to protect pet purchasers and prevent breeders and sellers from profiting off the sale of pets in bad health.

What Are Puppy Lemon Laws?

Puppy lemon laws are designed to protect consumers when they purchase a pet—usually a dog or a cat—that becomes sick in a relatively short timeframe following the purchase. As of 2016, 22 states have some form of puppy lemon laws on the books, including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia. Generally, these laws require the seller or breeder to take action if a pet gets sick, is found to have a hereditary problem, or dies within a specified period of time. Puppy lemon laws vary from state to state; however, most states allow the purchaser to return the sick animal for a refund or a replacement, and some states also give the purchaser the option to keep the sick animal and be reimbursed for veterinary expenses.

For example, in Illinois, a purchaser may return, exchange, or be reimbursed veterinary fees (not to exceed the cost of the pet) for the diagnosis and treatment of a dog or cat who, within twenty-one days of the purchase, presents with certain illness. If the pet dies within twenty-one days of purchase, the purchaser may be reimbursed for the full purchase price, including vet fees incurred. Additionally, Illinois law allows the same remedies if, within one year, the dog or cat is found to have a congenital or hereditary condition that adversely affects their health and requires hospitalization or non-elective surgery, or if the pet dies from the condition.

What Should You Do?

You should always do thorough research before purchasing a pet, especially about the seller or breeder. While there are protections against brick and mortar sellers, internet sellers may or may not be held to the same standards as other sellers in any state. Buying pets online carries a risk of being scammed, or simply being left without recourse if your pet becomes ill. If you are considering buying a pet online, make sure to thoroughly research the seller’s reputation before you make a purchase.

To protect purchasers, most states require that pet stores, sellers, and breeders provide some kind of certification from a veterinarian that the animal is in good health. Before taking home a new pet, you should make sure that, prior to the purchase, they were not found to have any illnesses or defects. Within the first week of making the purchase, you should take your new pet to a reputable veterinarian for a check-up, even if they seem healthy. In the event that your pet does become sick, you need to maintain all paperwork from the seller and keep all documents relating to visits to the veterinarian, including all vet records and receipts.

The sale of pets is governed by your state’s contract laws. If your pet does become ill or dies, you should consider contacting a lawyer who specializes in animal or contract law. Even if you are a savvy consumer, dealing with a sick pet or the death of a pet can be an emotional experience. A lawyer can inform you of your state’s puppy lemon laws, if they have them, and common law contract remedies.  

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Posted - 04/26/2017