Change may be coming to Texas law on suing for death of a pet

A Texas Appeals Court has issued a ruling that appears to depart from well established precedent. It has long been the law in Texas that a pet owner can only recover the market value of a pet, such as a dog, that has been killed. In the case of a mutt adopted from the animal shelter, the market value may not amount to much more than $100, but of course the value of a treasured pet to the owner is much more. The recent decision was that a pet owner could recover for the sentimental value of the pet.

The case was brought in Fort Worth by a couple whose 8-year old dog was accidentally euthanized by an animal shelter. After the appeals court’s decision, Randy Tuner, lawyer for the couple Jeremy and Kathryn Medlen, said this would be the first time in Texas that someone could sue for the sentimental value of a pet. A lower court had previously dismissed the Medlen’s lawsuit over the death of the Labrador mixed breed “Avery” saying they could only sue for Avery’s market value.

The Second Court of Appeals disagreed, saying that sentimental damages can be recovered for all manner of personal property, which would include an animal. In an 11-page opinion the Fort Worth Court of Appeals wrote: “”Dogs are unconditionally devoted to their owners. Today, we interpret timeworn supreme court law in light of subsequent supreme court law to acknowledge that the special value of `man’s best friend’ should be protected,”

Avery escaped from his owner’s backyard in 2009 and the city’s animal control picked him up. The Medlen’s found him at the shelter the next day, but Avery was put on the list of dogs to be euthanized in error. If the Chuck Silcox Animal Care and Control Center doesn’t appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, the case will likely be sent back down to the trial court to be considered on its merits.

The case is Kathryn and Jeremy Medlen v Carla Strickland, Cause No. 02-11-00105-CV and was appealed from the Tarrant County Court At Law No 1. The Court of Appeals opinion can be read online here. Carla Strickland was the shelter employee who incorrectly placed Avery on the list of dogs to be euthanized.