Relationships can be messy affairs. Generally people get together hoping that their romance will end in storybook fashion. However, for many that’s usually not the case. One day, you’re trying to sneak as many kisses from each other as possible, the next you’re stabbing your ex-girlfriend’s parrot to death with a serving fork.
Hopefully, most of you will have sense enough to end your union before it gets to this point. Unfortunately, for some even a relationship’s conclusion may not be enough to stop the craziness. Case in point, take Richard J. Atkinson, the man featured in the story in the link above. The 63-year-old Washington man recently pled guilty to first-degree animal cruelty and second-degree domestic-violence malicious mischief. Two fancy ways of saying he’s now slated to spend six months in jail.
So far details are sparse regarding what led to Atkinson killing his former girlfriend’s parrot. But apparently, Atkinson was in their former home when the incident took place. He claims he can’t remember the details due to blacking out from whiskey and his anti-anxiety medication. However, somewhere in this haze Atkinson found a fork to stab his ex’s parrot and then trash the house itself.
Atkinson’s former girlfriend had the parrot for 18 years. For her troubles, the court has ordered him to pay for the dead bird and the other property he destroyed. Atkinson will also be required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and has been forbidden from owning any animal for five years – which makes sense given the circumstances.
Seems like the end of the story, right? After all, Atkinson’s been put away and his ex will get compensated for her losses. Well, dear readers, in the legal world most cases rarely end so cleanly. There haven’t been any reports of intentions by the ex to file a civil lawsuit against Atkinson, but if (and probably when) she does, she could be in for quite a payday.
Now, as most of you probably already know, in our civil legal system pets are considered a form of property, or chattel if you prefer lawyer-speak. As such, the typical award for destroyed property is generally its fair market value at the time of destruction. And in this case, depending on the breed, parrots can live anywhere from five to 100 years. So considering that Atkinson ex’s bird was at least 18 years old, she may not get too much in terms of its fair market value. Fortunately, there’s more than one form of damages available to her. In this case it’s emotional distress and it’s likely to yield much more than a couple of hundred bucks.
Those who own pets know how attached one can become to an animal. After a while the little critters become a part of the family and losing it can be just as traumatic as losing a close human relative. Our civil legal system understands the distinct emotional value a beloved pet can hold for people. After all, they are no different than a unique family heirloom and can have the same irreplaceable sentimental qualities attached to them.
In Atkinson ex’s case, because Atkinson likely killed the parrot intentionally, she could recover damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress. To prevail in such cases, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s conduct was intentional or reckless, extreme or outrageous, and result in severe emotional distress for the plaintiff.
Here, Atkinson’s guilty plea has already done most of the legal work for his ex. His admission likely shows that his killing of the parrot was intentional and most reasonable people would likely see it as outrageous conduct. All his ex would have to do is show that she suffered some sort of emotional distress. And that’s probably not too hard to prove considering she had the bird for 18 years. If the judge or jury is a pet-lover, Atkinson could be really screwed and end up paying through the nose if his ex can prove she sustained severe mental and physical anguish following her parrot’s killing.
But for now, Atkinson appears to be off the hook. Just don’t be surprised if you see a civil lawsuit pop up later.