Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : September 2005

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MSBA Creates Animal Law Committee
~Response to growing area of law~
By Janet Stidman Eveleth

Animals have always been a vital part of our American culture. Today, animals reside on farms and pastures, in zoos and exotic parks and natural habitats across this country, some protected as endangered species. In addition, over 65 million households have at least one indoor domestic pet, while many others are classified as companion or service animals. Americans now spend billions of dollars on animals every year. The pet industry alone has become a huge multi-million dollar enterprise in this country.

As the public’s interest in animals grows, the status of animals in our legal system is increasingly in flux. Given the significant animal population in this country, consumers are encountering legal issues relating to human/animal interactions. These include everything from the legality of estate planning for companion animals, the changing liability standards and insurance coverage in dog bite cases, and compensation beyond fair market value when an animal is killed, to the public and private conflicts about where an animal can be, and competing interests of wild animals and urban, farming and recreational land use.

As consumers face this array of animal-related legalities so, then, do their attorneys. To support MSBA practitioners in this relatively new area of the law, MSBA is creating a new Animal Law Committee so its members will be equipped to assist their clients. Through MSBA’s new Committee, attorneys may network with other practitioners, draw support from their colleagues, share their expertise in this unique area of practice and exchange creative and interesting ways to use legal arguments in the face of some of these increasingly complex scenarios.

“The actual practice is very new, although it is becoming more recognized,” states attorney Alan Nemeth, who currently accepts animal law cases on a pro bono basis as he establishes his own practice in this new legal field. “Animal law is not limited simply to animal rights issues. There are a number of legal issues that touch on pets, in such areas as family law, contracts, trusts, torts, property, criminal and landlord/tenant law. Trusts and wills is one of the biggest.”

There are many states, including Maryland, where animals have no legal standing in court; animals have no legal rights. As Nemeth explains, “when a person creates a Pet Trust for the care of an animal in Maryland, in the event of that person’s death, that animal is not considered a person so it has no standing in court. Therefore, that trust can be contested by a family member.”

Pet trusts and pet visitation rights in divorce cases are two big issues in animal law, although Nemeth reports case law is emerging in a number of key areas relating to animals. Veterinary medical malpractice, wildlife law and regulations, like the recent black bear hunt, animal cruelty and protection laws and exotic animal laws are all emerging issues. MSBA’s new Animal Law Committee is likely to explore these once it is up and running. It may also sponsor seminars on some of these issues to benefit MSBA members and the public.

Animal Law is a growing field in the legal community. The American Bar Association recently created its first Animal Law Committee, as have eight state bar associations. Thirty-seven law schools, including the University of Maryland School of Law, now offer animal law courses and 36 states have passed animal-related criminal felony bills, where only nine existed less than a decade ago.

MSBA members interested in joining this Committee should e-mail MSBA Executive Director Paul V. Carlin at pcarlin@msba.org.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: September 2005

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