Money for Emotional Distress

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jewish_scientist
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Money for Emotional Distress

Postby jewish_scientist » Tue Dec 20, 2016 3:07 pm UTC

I have to go take my stat final so I will make this fast. Maya the dog was taken without the owner's permission and then killed by PETA. The owner's daughter was so upset that she could not sleep or eat. She lost weight. The family is suing PETA for $9 million. Is this a reasonable amount?

This is for my journalism final, which is due tomorrow. After that, I will be more than happy to talk about frivolous lawsuits by money-loving liars. For right now though, can we just focus on putting this case in context.

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Dec 20, 2016 3:15 pm UTC

I'm okay with punitive damages as a check on large organizations with a habit of repeatedly engaging in the same misbehavior. So yeah, go nuts. Sue for roughly all the money.

Additionally, I view pets as akin to family. So, someone nabbing them and illegally killing them is something I view as pretty severely wrong. It's something in great need of being checked.

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby Zohar » Tue Dec 20, 2016 3:30 pm UTC

The costs involved in this case aren't very high - let's say you provide therapy and a nutritionist weekly for the daughter for a year, let's estimate that at $300/week, so 15.6K. Let's round that up massively to $100K.

However, $100K might not be a big loss for PETA. It needs to be enough money that they'll want to not do this again, that it will cause them a huge headache to deal with. So I don't know if it's ridiculous or not. That's what judges are for.
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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby Zamfir » Tue Dec 20, 2016 5:04 pm UTC

It needs to be enough money that they'll want to not do this again, that it will cause them a huge headache to deal with.

In many countries (perhaps most, but I am not an expert), there's no such thing as punitive damages. Damages in a civil court case are supposed to compensate for suffered damages, no more. That can include immaterial damages and might be much more than a compensation for monetary costs, but that doesn't extent to a punitive or deterrent element. That's restricted to criminal law, and it would be a fine to be paid to the court, not to the person suffering damages.

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby jewish_scientist » Tue Dec 20, 2016 5:13 pm UTC

I just took my final so now I can add some more relevant info. Wilbur gave his daughter Cynthia a puppy Chihuahua for Christmas. Cynthia would go right home after school to play with Maya. After the unfortunate events, which were caught on a tape by a security camera, Cynthia cried for weeks, refused to eat and could not sleep. After a couple of months, PETA admitted to taking and killing Maya. Interestingly, they sent the message to directly to the local press, as opposed to a press release that would be available on their website. In contrast, PETA has made 22 press releases between December 15 and December 19. [sarcasm]It is almost as if their 3 paragraph apology, which contain 2 paragraphs praising themselves, was insincere.[/sarcasm]

At first Wilber was seeking $2 million for his and his daughter's pain, $5 million from PETA as a punishment, and $350,000 from the two PETA members who actually took Maya as punishment. At some point the charges increased to $9 million.

PETA's 2016 budget is ~$45 million, and they spent ~$9 million on "International Grassroots Campaigns," so losing this lawsuit could really hurt.

Tyndmyr wrote:Additionally, I view pets as akin to family.

Yeah, pets have always been in this weird legal-zone because an animal bought for $100 can be worth more than $100.

Zamfir wrote:
It needs to be enough money that they'll want to not do this again, that it will cause them a huge headache to deal with.

In many countries (perhaps most, but I am not an expert), there's no such thing as punitive damages. Damages in a civil court case are supposed to compensate for suffered damages, no more. That can include immaterial damages and might be much more than a compensation for monetary costs, but that doesn't extent to a punitive or deterrent element. That's restricted to criminal law, and it would be a fine to be paid to the court, not to the person suffering damages.

I think the idea is more like, 'You could have taken precautions to prevent the event that hurt me, so you must pay for your negligence and for the damage caused.'

P.S. I have decided to put completely unrelated and funny articles at the end of my posts that are about not funny things. Here is the first: "You + Crime + Police Car + Facebook = Arrest"
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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby PeteP » Tue Dec 20, 2016 5:25 pm UTC

For who else was wondering why the hell they would do that:
Zarate says the workers came to the trailer park to catch dogs that were left behind by previous residents. PETA says they mistook the Chihuahua for another pet.
I am not sure why that is something PETA does either but then I simply don't know much about them.

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby Zohar » Tue Dec 20, 2016 6:17 pm UTC

They are generally terrible.
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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Dec 20, 2016 6:25 pm UTC

They have a view of animals that is really strange. They view pets as akin to slavery. And somehow, that killing them is better than freeing them. I'm not really sure how this is logically coherent, but at the end of the day, PETA kills a lot of animals.

Somehow "sorry, we weren't specifically trying to kill YOUR pet" doesn't make it much better. They're still intentionally running a "kill all the animals we catch" operation, lying about it, and snagging pets in the process.

Literally paying children to lure pets off the porch so you can illegally murder them greatly exceeds negligence/accident, and gets into mustache twirling villain level. I'm perfectly okay with making an example of such people. I am mostly sad that they can only be sued for money. Hunting them for sport might be about fair.

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby elasto » Tue Dec 20, 2016 7:03 pm UTC

To my mind there's something wrong with the whole concept of punitive damages.

If something shouldn't be done at all, it should be illegal with a proportionate punishment - from littering all the way up. That's criminal law.

Criminal law can have punitive elements to it - eg. sometimes sentences can be overly harsh as a deterrent (though for many crimes actually that has no effect), and some countries issue speeding fines proportional to a person's income, so someone might get a $100k fine for going 15mph over the limit...

Civil law should be purely about the making whole of someone who has suffered a loss that does not rise to the level of a criminal infraction. eg. someone gets sold some goods that are not fit for purpose. That can include an element of restitution for mental anguish, but not beyond that to my mind.

If you must have punitive damages for civil suits, I'd far rather they go into a general pot that pays for, say, free legal aid for all than they just go to whoever is 'lucky' enough to bring the lawsuit...
Last edited by elasto on Tue Dec 20, 2016 7:12 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby HES » Tue Dec 20, 2016 7:12 pm UTC

elasto wrote:If you must have punitive damages for civil suits, I'd far rather they go into a general pot that pays for, say, free legal aid for all than they just go to whoever is 'lucky' enough to bring the lawsuit...

I'm with you here. Compensation goes to victim, punitive damages go to some related cause.
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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby ucim » Tue Dec 20, 2016 7:40 pm UTC

How different would it be if it were her baby brother instead of her pet? Aside from criminal charges of murder; I'm talking about "compensation".

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Dec 20, 2016 7:44 pm UTC

ucim wrote:How different would it be if it were her baby brother instead of her pet? Aside from criminal charges of murder; I'm talking about "compensation".

Jose


Large compensatory damages have definitely been awarded for human deaths. Settlements are common when you get to such large numbers, of course. Notably, OJ Simson had significantly larger punitive damages levied against him in his civil trial.

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby Zamfir » Tue Dec 20, 2016 9:09 pm UTC

'You could have taken precautions to prevent the event that hurt me, so you must pay for your negligence and for the damage caused.'

Paying for the damage is a universal principle in civil court cases. The weird part is adding more money on top as a fine, then giving that money to the winning party in a civil case. As Zohar says, " It needs to be enough money that they'll want to not do this again, that it will cause them a huge headache to deal with."

From a bit of googling, this looks an almost uniquely US tradition. A few other countries don't rule this out as a principle, but still restrict to rare situations. The rest don't have this principle at all, they leave punishment entirely to criminal courts.

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby ahammel » Tue Dec 20, 2016 9:56 pm UTC

Disclaimer: IANAL, I'm just a dude with access to Wikipedia.

Punitive damages are a thing in most states. However, if the punitive damages are much larger than the monetary damages awarded, the defendants can appeal the verdict on the grounds that a "grossly excessive" award violates their right to due process. The courts are generally hesitant to award punitive damages beyond a 4x multiplier, but they've upheld awards much higher than that if the defendant's actions are likely to result in much greater economic damages if repeated[1]. So if you wildly fire a gun into a crowd and by pure blind chance only manage to do $10 worth of damage, a jury can constitutionally order you to pay thousands of dollars in damages.

Taking Zohar's estimate of 100K in economic damages, they're asking for a punitive damage multiplier of 90X, which is pretty high. The plaintiff can argue that there will be an ongoing cost (the kid might need therapy for the rest of her life), or that PETA are extremely lucky that they didn't do much more damage. Sounds to me like $9M is pushing it, though.

Punitive damages are different from damages sought for emotional distress, though. AFAICT the plaintiffs have a lot more leeway there. It's up to the jury to decide how much to award, up to what the plaintiff was asking for. The courts will only overturn the decision if the penalty is 'grossly excessive or monstrous', 'clearly not supported by evidence', or 'only based on speculation or guesswork'[2][3]. From what I can see, the plaintiffs are well within their rights to ask for $9M in damages, and the jury is free to award that much if they feel it's justified.

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Dec 21, 2016 1:17 pm UTC

ahammel wrote:Taking Zohar's estimate of 100K in economic damages, they're asking for a punitive damage multiplier of 90X, which is pretty high. The plaintiff can argue that there will be an ongoing cost (the kid might need therapy for the rest of her life), or that PETA are extremely lucky that they didn't do much more damage. Sounds to me like $9M is pushing it, though.


I'd argue that their actions show a pattern of predatory behavior, and relying on folks's inability to fight them.

On a moral basis, an especially hard smackdown for this seems reasonable. Essentially, they ARE doing much more damage, and mostly getting away with it.

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby ahammel » Wed Dec 21, 2016 2:38 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:
ahammel wrote:Taking Zohar's estimate of 100K in economic damages, they're asking for a punitive damage multiplier of 90X, which is pretty high. The plaintiff can argue that there will be an ongoing cost (the kid might need therapy for the rest of her life), or that PETA are extremely lucky that they didn't do much more damage. Sounds to me like $9M is pushing it, though.


I'd argue that their actions show a pattern of predatory behavior, and relying on folks's inability to fight them.

On a moral basis, an especially hard smackdown for this seems reasonable. Essentially, they ARE doing much more damage, and mostly getting away with it.
I don't disagree, but I'm not sure the courts would go for it. Seems to me like PETA would have pretty solid grounds to appeal under Due Process if the argument for punitive damages was "they've done other bad stuff unrelated to this case".

There's another batch of problems with asking for punitive damages, which is that this case is being tried in Virginia. In Virginia, in order for punitive damages to be awarded, the plaintiffs have to show that the defendants acted "wantonly, oppressively, or with such malice as to evince a spirit of malice or criminal indifference to civil obligations", which is quite a high bar. And there's an arbitrary cap of $350K, anyway[1]. Punitive damages caps have been found to be unconstitutional in other states[2], so the plaintiffs could always roll the dice and hope that this is the case that overturns punitive damage caps in Virginia, but it's a long shot.

The Virginia courts are also pretty reluctant to award damages for emotional distress[3]. In order to get an emotional damages claim over and above the direct costs that Zohar mentioned, the plaintiffs would have to show that the defendants' conduct was intentional and "so outrageous that it is utterly intolerable in society", and that it caused the plaintiff extreme emotional distress accompanied by a physical injury. That's a much higher bar than in other states, but at least there's no arbitrary cap, and higher courts are very unlikely to overturn the award.

I don't think they're going to get $9M, frankly.

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby CorruptUser » Thu Dec 22, 2016 5:55 am UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:They have a view of animals that is really strange. They view pets as akin to slavery. And somehow, that killing them is better than freeing them. I'm not really sure how this is logically coherent, but at the end of the day, PETA kills a lot of animals.


If you believe that being castrated and kept as a slave with no chance for escape is a fate worse than death...

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby Zohar » Thu Dec 22, 2016 1:38 pm UTC

You have an interesting definition of slavery.
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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Dec 22, 2016 3:13 pm UTC

The definition of slavery is odd.

And the judgment of "worse" seems to not rely at all on the animal's own preferences, or any other external references at all.

I suppose if you arbitrarily redefine words at will, and are not constrained by fact, you can "prove" anything, but doing so does become an exercise in misusing logic.

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby CorruptUser » Thu Dec 22, 2016 3:25 pm UTC

Zohar wrote:You have an interesting definition of slavery.


I don't, but PETA does, and they believe it.

Sort of like how I don't believe that a 4 week old fetus is 'human', but a large number of people do.

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Dec 22, 2016 3:48 pm UTC

I mean, most people are against human slavery, but they don't generally propose murdering slaves. Murder has a really shitty track record of helping people.

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Re: Money for Emotional Distress

Postby elasto » Thu Dec 22, 2016 7:39 pm UTC

I guess this would be a pretty good illustration of my problem with how punitive damages are done in practice:

Ikea has agreed to pay $50m to the families of three toddlers killed in the US by falling chests of drawers, according to lawyers for the families.

Camden Ellis, 2, Curren Collas, 2, and 23-month-old Ted McGee were crushed after Malm drawers from Ikea toppled onto them.

Initially, the company had warned customers to use wall mounts with them, but the third death in February prompted the recall.

Lawyers at Feldman Shepherd said the $50m would be split evenly between the families. They added that, as part of the settlement, Ikea had also agreed to make three separate $50,000 donations to hospitals in memories of the children and a $100,000 contribution to a charity focused on child safety.

The deaths prompted the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to launch an education campaign about the risk of falling chests of drawers.

I'd be much happier if it were $250k to the families and $50m to hospitals/charities/ad campaigns than the other way around - just from a simple utilitarian viewpoint.

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