When lawyers talk about a “slippery slope,” they mean this: a small change in policy that sounds good but that leads inexorably to something bad. It’s a persuasive trick of argument that’s valid only if the chain of events from minor to major can be established. Otherwise, stepping onto a slippery slope is no big deal at all.

The argument often raised against allowing non-economic or sentimental damages for harm to animals presents a classic slippery slope situation. If opponents of non-economic damages are right, courts will make such damage awards to successful plaintiffs; insurance companies will pay and will, in turn, raise their premiums charged to veterinarians; cash-strapped veterinarians will pass the increased insurance premiums on to their clients; and animals will not receive needed veterinary care because clients will not, or cannot, pay the higher vet bills. Animals, their owners, and veterinarians all will suffer.

The argument holds water only if the anticipated chain of events plays out as projected. If not, the argument falls apart.

Lessons from human medicine suggest that the non-economic damages slope is, indeed, a slippery one. Assuming for a moment that it is, how can the interests of owners who want to be compensated for the sentimental value of their animalsÑrecognition of the human-animal bond touted by the veterinary communityÑbe balanced against the concerns of veterinarians who fear hefty increases in liability insurance premiums and less access to affordable veterinary care?

The availability of damages in a civil lawsuit is governed by state law. Not surprisingly, there is little common grou