Update, Monday, 6:30 p.m. PT: This story has been updated throughout with comments from a Rover representative.
A Los Angeles woman has filed a lawsuit against Seattle-based Rover, claiming that the pet-sitting startup failed to set up a rigorous vetting system for its sitters which resulted in the death of the woman’s dog.
The complaint was filed Monday morning in Los Angeles County Superior Court by the Los Angeles firm Tauler Smith. Actress and model Angelica Bridges, who once starred on the TV series “Baywatch,” was named as a co-defendant because she was the sitter taking care of the unnamed plaintiff’s Papillion, named Snoopy.
The suit also claims that Rover falsely guarantees complimentary insurance to customers. “In reality, Rover does nothing to vet its sitters and does not offer any meaningful insurance to its aggrieved customers,” the complaint reads.
John Lapham, general counsel for Rover, told GeekWire that the company doesn’t usually comment on pending litigation, before adding that he also wasn’t sure if there even was pending litigation yet because they hadn’t been served as of Monday afternoon. But they were aware of the law firm’s blog post and news release, which were sent to media.
“A lot of the statements were confusing or just flat wrong,” Lapham said. “For instance, Rover does provide protection for its stays and the counsel circulating the lawsuit would have known that given that he’s already spoken directly with a Rover insurance adjuster.”
Bridges, 47, was not properly vetted as a sitter, the suit argues, because she misrepresented having a fenced yard at her Beverly Hills, Calif., home. The dog was allegedly unsupervised outdoors, escaped and was run over by a car.
The 1 1/2-year-old Snoopy, who is characterized as “perfectly trained” and “extremely well behaved” in the complaint, served as an emotional support animal for the plaintiff, referred to as Jane Doe in the document. The woman further alleges that the Rover app complicated the plaintiff’s ability to get in touch with Bridges, and details the frantic search which took place on April 3, 2017, when the dog went missing.
A passage in the complaint contains an alleged message from Bridges to the plaintiff: “I tried calling you through Rover but it is not going through! Please call me asap. Snoopy went under a literal 2 inch opening under our fence & we have had the whole neighborhood looking for him right now. Please call me!”
The plaintiff reportedly experienced “extreme emotional distress due to Snoopy’s death, which aggravated and worsened her medical condition,” the complaint reads. “The distress prevented her from beginning her new full-time job, leaving the house, and going to scheduled doctor appointments.”
“The sitter involved in this had more than 30 five-star reviews,” Lapham said. “I can say generally that we at Rover were truly broken-hearted by what happened with the dog and its passing. And we made extensive efforts to assist with any of the aftercare and to check on the owner’s well-being. But our requests were directed to the law firm which has since circulated this lawsuit.”
Under the Aftermath section of the complaint, it alleges that Bridges had her status as a trusted sitter reinstated on Rover, and the company confirmed that. But Rover said that her status as a sitter was “paused” by the company’s “Trust and Safety” team as an investigation took place, which ultimately determined that Bridges was a “great sitter who provided great care,” with the exception of this one “awful incident.”
Founded in 2011, Rover runs the largest pet services marketplace, helping to match more than 140,000 vetted sitters across 10,000 cities in North America. The company raised $65 million, its largest investment round ever, last summer.
In the time since the accident, Lapham said that the attorney working on behalf of the dog owner has sought $1 million from Rover to compensate for the death of Snoopy.
“It was very sad and it was very tragic, but that demand we thought was excessive,” Lapham said. The company reiterated that they are “obsessed with dogs” and that they care and wanted to help. “Our criteria for decision making here is things that are in the best interest of the dog, which is why we started the business to begin with. Things like this are terrible.”
Lapham said that Rover has had to deal with incidental accidents in the past, but that the vast, vast majority of them end well.
“We have extensive processes for any sort of illness or incident with a dog that’s under the care of a Rover sitter,” Lapham said. “Because we sit and watch more dogs, we have more data on how to handle the circumstances than anybody in the world. That helps us really narrowly define what ought to happen in these kind of circumstances.”
The plaintiff is seeking damages to be determined at trial. Read the full complaint here.