Texas Supreme Court to determine ‘sentimental’ value of pets

Justices seated on the Texas Supreme Court will soon decide if pet owners can put an emotional price tag on the premature loss of their beloved furry companions. 

Court records show Tarrant County residents Kathryn and Jeremy Medlen sued Carla Strickland, alleging the woman’s negligence caused the death of their dog.

On June 2, 2009, the Medlen’s dog, Avery, escaped from their backyard and was picked up by animal control. Jeremy went to the animal shelter to retrieve Avery, but did not have enough money with him to pay the fees. He was told that he could return for the dog a week later and a “hold for owner” tag was placed on Avery’s cage notifying employees that the Medlens were going to return for Avery, court papers say.

In the meantime, on June 6, 2009, Strickland, a shelter employee, made a list of animals that would be euthanized the following day. She put Avery on the list, and he was put down the next day. When the Medlens returned for their dog a few days later, they learned of his unfortunate fate, court papers say.

During the litigation, court records show the trial court granted Strickland’s special exception, which argued sentimental or intrinsic value damages are not recoverable for the death of a dog, and ordered the plaintiffs to re-plead “a claim for damages recognized at law,” court papers say.

The Medlens filed an amended petition alleging a claim for “intrinsic value” damages. Strickland specially excepted again, and the trial court dismissed the Medlens’ lawsuit with prejudice.

However, on appeal, the Medlens successfully argued their dog had little market value and were due damages for intrinsic or sentimental value, court papers say.

The Second Court of Appeals reverse and remanded the trial court’s ruling, prompting Strickland to file an appeal with the Texas Supreme Court.

On Jan. 10 Justices heard oral arguments.

The court will decide if a pet is worth only its market value or if the owner is entitled to recover emotional-related damages.

Groups that have filed amicus briefs in the case include the No Kill Advocacy Center, Texas Veterinary Medical Association, Texas Civil Justice League, American Kennel Club, Texas Dog Commission and Texas Municipal League.

In its amicus letter, the TCJL says the Fort Worth Court of Appeals’ decision to allow damages based on the sentimental value of a pet disregards well-settled Texas law, places Texas jurisprudence far outside the national mainstream, and makes a radical policy change that should be left to the Texas Legislature.

“As other amici have amply documented, the law of Texas and the vast majority of states does not permit sentimental damages for the death of a pet,” the TCJL’s letter states.

“Moreover, if broad and potentially unlimited liability was imposed on pet owners, veterinary care professionals, animal shelters, local governments, motor vehicle owners and operators, and myriad other parties that may come into contact with a pet, the increased risk will be passed on in the form of substantially higher insurance premiums, medical and veterinary costs, and local taxes and fees, just to name a few.”

Strickland is represented in part by attorney Paul Boudloche of the Fort Worth law firm Mason & Boudloche.

Bedford attorney Randall E. Turner is among counsel for the Medlens.

Supreme Court case No. 12-0047

Should pet owners be able to sue for the sentimental value of their animals? Share your opinion on our online poll!

More Stories