April 5, 2013

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

The court recognized that family pets have sentimental value, but said it is uncompensable.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled against a Fort Worth family who 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 that said 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 court, in a unanimous decision from the court, stood by its earlier precedent and said that a pet owner's attachment to their 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," wrote Justice Don Willett. "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..."

Kathyrn and Jeremy Medlen 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 Kathryn and Jeremy 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 Tarrant County civil district court 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.

An attorney representing the former animal shelter employee, Carla Strickland, in her appeal, said pet owners can already sue for reasonable damages if their animal is killed accidentally.

The attorney 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

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