Is a dog more like a family member or a piece of furniture to you, his or her pet guardian/pet parent? In the eyes of the law, dogs are property. They are animals and damage to an animal means something happened to your property. I learned this the hard way, and in a piece I wrote for the Dawg Business health blog, more about this story will be revealed.
In the meantime, a wrongful death case has been brought forward to the Texas Supreme Court, and the eyes of pet lovers, dog owners, and practitioners everywhere 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 they came to pick him 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.
One shelter worker decided not to wait and Carla Strickland, the worker, euthanized the dog in spite of a “hold for owner” tag the dog was wearing.
In the fall of 2011, a three-judge panel of the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth ruled that the case should be handed over to a jury, who would in turn decide what to compensate the couple for their loss.
Dog owners take note: According to the Wall Street Journal online, an appellate court ruled in favor of the Medlens in 2011, stating the case was like that of a family heirloom where sentimental value of the items should be considered. 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.
Interestingly, the Fort Worth’s 2nd Court of Appeals overturning a lower court’s dismissal of the case is the first of its kind in interpreting a 120-year-old precedent from the Texas Supreme Court that plaintiffs could simply recover an animal’s market value.
Dog parents/guardians know that an animal has so much more than “market value,” as if you are reading this you probably consider your dog(s) a member of the family. Heck, to me, my dog is my kid; a furry one, but a kid. I just don’t get to keep him as long as his human counterparts.
It will be interesting to see where this case goes and what the court’s decision will be. Elizabeth Choate, the general counsel of the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, voiced her opposition to the damages brought forward, stating, “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 his or her dog is damaged/harmed/killed due to a veterinarian or shelter worker’s negligence?
Bark at me in the comments below.