Texas Supreme Court rules against Fort Worth family whose dog accidentally euthanized

Posted Friday, Apr. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday against a Fort Worth family that sued for the sentimental value of their dog after it was mistakenly euthanized at a Fort Worth animal shelter.

The case was being watched by animal advocates, pet product manufacturers and veterinary groups after the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth ruled that owners can claim sentimental value for their deceased pets, overturning a 120-year-old state Supreme Court decision stating that a person can only sue for the market value of a pet.

But the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, stood by its precedent and said that a pet owner's attachment to a family pet, while unquestionable, is also uncompensable.

"Throughout the Lone Star State, canine companions are treated -- and treasured -- not as mere personal property but as beloved friends and confidants, even family members," Justice Don Willett wrote. "Given the richness that companion animals add to our everyday lives, losing 'man's best friend' is undoubtedly sorrowful. Even the gruffest among us tears up (everytime) at the end of Old Yeller.

"We acknowledge the grief of those whose companions are negligently killed. Relational attachment is unquestionable. But it is also uncompensable. We reaffirm our long-settled rule ..."

Randy Turner, an attorney who represented Jeremy and Kathryn Medlen, who sued over the sentimental value of their dog, said he was surprised and disappointed by the ruling.

"I was expecting some recognition of the special value of dogs. This is a huge defeat for our four-legged friends," Turner said.

Turner added that he was surprised that the justices didn't modify the 120-year-old law because of people's changing attitudes about their pets, as many view them as family members.

The Medlens sued a Fort Worth animal shelter employee after their dog, an 8-year-old Labrador mix named Avery, was mistakenly euthanized several years ago.

Avery had escaped from the Medlens' back yard during a thunderstorm. The next day, Jeremy Medlen went to the animal shelter to get his dog but found out he had to pay $80 in order for the shelter to release Avery. Medlen didn't have the cash on hand but was told he could come back to claim Avery.

He returned to the shelter the next day, but matters were complicated even more when he learned that a veterinarian would have to implant a microchip in Avery's ear. A "hold for the owner" sign was placed on the dog's cage to prevent the dog from being put down.

But when Medlen returned to the shelter with money to claim Avery, he learned that his pet had been euthanized by mistake.

Initially, their lawsuit was dismissed in a civil District Court in Tarrant County because the family sued for the sentimental value and not the market value of their dog, but the Medlens appealed, and the Fort Worth appeals court issued its ruling in favor of the family.

John Cayce, an attorney representing the former animal shelter employee, Carla Strickland, in her appeal, could not be reached Friday but said previously that pet owners can already sue for reasonable damages if their animal is killed accidentally.

Cayce said that the Fort Worth appeals court ruling would also have a "devastating" effect on the economy, forcing veterinarians to pay more for malpractice insurance and pet owners to pay more for vet visits.

Elizabeth Campbell,


Twitter: @fwstliz

Looking for comments?

We welcome your comments on this story, but please be civil. Do not use profanity, hate speech, threats, personal abuse or any device to draw undue attention. Our policy requires those wishing to post here to use their real identity.

Our commenting policy | Facebook commenting FAQ | Why Facebook?