The Texas Supreme Court is faced with the decision of whether a family can place sentimental value on a pet. In 2009, a dog escaped from the yard of a Texas family, and was euthanized before they'd had a chance to pick him up from the facility.
Three years ago Jeremy and Kathryn Medlen's family dog, Avery, got loose and ran from their yard. The dog was picked up and Fort Worth Animal Control called the Medlen family to tell them they had Avery.
When the family got to the facility to pick up their dog, they were horrified to learn Avery had been accidentally euthanized the day before. Avery was seven years old.
"When Jeremy and his two small children went to go pick up Avery, they were told they accidentally killed him the day before," said Medlen's attorney, Randy Turner, according to ABC News. Turner has taken this case free of charge, reported ABC.
What happened was the facility had placed a "hold for owner" sign on the cage Avery was in, but a worker included him in the group of dogs to be euthanized. The family is now suing that worker for negligence and for the euthanizing of their pet.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Texas law says the family could obtain the market value of a pet and any other economic losses associated with owning a pet, but litigation based on emotional value is more complex.
This case is unique because a 1963 Texas law says that individuals can sue for "sentimental value" if property is wrongfully destroyed, but has no market value. While the law has long been on the books, it has never been applied to an actual pet.
"Problem is, they never applied sentimental value to dogs," said Turner. "You can sue and recover the sentimental value of a photograph, but not the dog itself."
The first case was dismissed, but an appeals court said in 2011:
"The special value of 'man's best friend' should be protected" and mused why such damages should be allowed for the loss of "a sentimental photograph of a family and its dog, but not the dog itself?" (courtesy Wall Street Journal)
The worker, Carla Strickland, reportedly feels "terrible" about what she'd done. Her attorney argues that this case could have extensive implications if the Court rules in favor of the Medlin family.
"This case really goes beyond the dispute between Strickland and the Medlens," said attorney John Cayce. "It would have an adverse impact on just the average citizen in the state that might accidentally run over a dog on the way to work. With that kind of liability, the insurance rates would go up."
The WSJ also reported that the American Veterinary Medical Association to the Cat Fanciers' Association filed briefs with the high court stating that veterinary and other pet services, such as dog walking, would soar in price if emotional damages were allowed in pet litigation.
Arguments for the case were heard yesterday and a decision could take weeks or up to nine months. The Medlen family is not seeking a particular amount in damages, according to Turner, but they want validation and recognition of the value society places on animals
"They brought this case to try to create a legal incentive for people to take good care of animals," Turner said, indicating that the family wants to prevent this from happening to someone else.