TALLAHASSEE – Florida attorneys look forward to a new section of the state’s Bar association that will focus on animal law – a growing area of interest that intersects with almost every area of law, from contracts to sports to criminal law.
Gil Panzer, a Boca Raton attorney who worked on creating this section, which will take formal effect in July, told the Florida Record that the overlap has made animal law attractive to a lot of attorneys. As organizers sought to turn the Animal Law Committee into a full-blown section, they were backed by more than 1,000 attorneys who said they’d be interested in joining.
The Bar has sections covering many legal areas, including family and business law. There are also sections for different groups, including trial lawyers and young lawyers. Attorneys can voluntarily join a section to get information and education on a specific area and to meet other attorneys with similar interests.
“It’s also true that animals ... there are more households with pets or companion animals or other animals than there are households with children," Panzer said. "So it’s important. Even if people might not be litigating it, it’s still something that touches on their lives."
Pet adoption contracts, hoarding cases, dog fighting, custody battles – these are all examples of cases attorneys have seen involving animals, especially companion animals. But the area also touches on agriculture, sports, health, housing, and state and local regulations. The section will focus on educating its members on this area of law and informing them of new developments.
Ralph DeMeo, who will chair the new section, told the Florida Record that the state has seen more proposed legislation related to animals, including eight bills last session and 14 the year before. More judges have started to view animals differently, too.
“We are seeing more and more judges in Florida and other states recognize that, unlike a chair or desk, an animal is a sentient being and a member of a family," DeMeo said. "There is an emotional case for pain and suffering."
For example, in veterinary malpractice cases, families typically recover the cost of care and, perhaps, the cost of replacing the animal, he said.
“We’re seeing judges start to acknowledge that there’s another whole category that ought to be addressed," DeMeo said.
The animal law section provides an opportunity and a venue to discuss these issues and changes, attorneys said. The section is a step up from the animal law committee that started more than a decade ago. The status gives attorneys more flexibility and impact on animal law in the state.
“In my mind, it gives us the opportunity to reach that many more people,” Gregg Morton, who will be vice chair of the committee, told the Florida Record.
At the time that a group of attorneys petitioned for a committee, only six other states’ Bar associations had anyone dedicated to educating and informing attorneys on animal law. Now, committees and sections are more common.
Morton compared it to environmental law when it was “just taking off.”
“In a while, it’ll just be a matter of course,” he said.