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Should Dog Owners Be Able to Sue for Emotional Damages?

A Texas court will decide: Is a dog worth more than "market value?" What do you think?

 |  Jan 16th 2013  |   26 Contributions


Is your dog more like a family member, or more like a piece of furniture to you? In the eyes of the law, dogs are property. They are animals, and damage to or loss of an animal means something happened to your property, and that you can recover its "market value" in court. I learned this the hard way, and in a piece I wrote for the Dawg Business health blog.

But that could change. A wrongful death case was recently argued before the Texas Supreme Court, and the eyes of pet lovers, dog owners, and many legal practitioners are no doubt watching.

In 2009, a mutt named Avery escaped from his home in Fort Worth, Texas. He was picked up and taken to a city shelter. The owners of the dog, Kathryn and Jeremy Medlen, called the shelter, where workers there promised to hold the dog until he could be picked up. In order to get Avery out of the shelter, the couple would have to pay a $100 fee, which they were willing to do.

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Dogs own our hearts. How can they be mere "property?"

One shelter worker, Carla Strickland, didn't wait and instead euthanized the dog in spite of a “hold for owner” tag the dog wore.

The resulting lawsuit was dismissed, but the Medlens appealed. In the fall of 2011, a three-judge panel of Texas' 2nd Court of Appeals ruled that the case should go back to the trial court and utlimately be handed over to a jury, who would in turn decide what to compensate the couple for their loss, according to the court's opinion.

Dog owners take note: In the opinion, the court says that a dog is analogous to a family heirloom, where sentimental value of the items should be considered along with any quantifiable "market value."

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What’s a feeling like this worth? Girl and her big dog by Shutterstock.

"The special value of 'man’s best friend’ should be protected,” the appellate court wrote, asking why such damages should be allowed for the loss of “a sentimental photograph of a family and its dog, but not the dog itself?”

The lawyer representing the Medlens, Randy Turner, argues that the case is about whether residents of Texas can seek damages when someone destroys their personal property, regardless of its market value.

The 2nd Court of Appeals' overturning the trial court’s dismissal of the case is the first reinterpretation of a 120-year-old precedent from the Texas Supreme Court stating that plaintiffs could recover only an animal’s market value. (Rather than going directly back to the trial court, the Texas Supreme Court will first decide on how the law should be interpreted.)

Dog parents and guardians know that an animal has so much more than “market value." Heck, to me, my dog is my kid -- a furry one, but a kid nonetheless. I just don’t get to keep him as long as his human counterparts.

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How can unconditional love be assigned "market value?"

It will be interesting to see what the Texas high court decides. Elizabeth Choate, the general counsel of the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, voiced her opposition to the damages brought forward, telling the Wall Street Journal online, “My dog may be worth $1 million to me -- should that much money go to an owner for pain and suffering? Should cats be valued more than dogs, or hamsters or goldfish?”

What do you think? Should there be a cap on how much a person can sue if that person's dog is injured or killed because of a veterinarian or shelter worker’s negligence?

Bark at me in the comments below.

Note: This article is used with permission from FidoseofReality.com, where it originally ran.

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