A Mississippi jury today awarded a $1.2 Million verdict to a golden retriever named Sparky against Senator Trent Lott in a personal injury case. This is only the third time that a pet has been able to recover pain and suffering damages for personal injury in the US, and is the largest verdict to date for an animal.
In July of 2005, Lott backed his Lincoln Town Car out of the Hottiesburg strip club in Hattiesburg, running over Sparky, who was wearing a bright orange vest. Criminal charges were not filed against Lott, but evidence in the personal injury trial showed that he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.13, well over the legal limit of 0.08. Sparky had no significant amount of alcohol in his blood.
Sparky's tail had to be amputated at the veterinary hospital, and he also sustained internal injuries requiring surgery. The jury awarded Sparky $500,000 in past pain and suffering, and $500,000 in future pain and suffering. Sparky's owner, Vidalia Smith, was awarded $200,000 for "loss of services", a type of award that is common in some personal injury cases.
The case was handled by the law firm formerly headed by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. Edwards took a break from the campaign trail to make the closing argument to the jury.
After the verdict, Edwards thanked the jury for their thoughtful efforts. Defense lawyer Kenneth Starr said they would appeal. Sparky seemed cheerful, but said nothing intelligible.