This Monday this Texas Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Strickland v. Medlen, a suit for damages brought by pet owners against a Fort Worth animal shelter employee who mistakenly euthanized their six-year-old mixed breed dog, Avery. The highest Court in our state is now tasked with deciding whether Avery’s owners can sue for the sentimental value of their beloved family pet or merely for the replacement value of the mixed-breed animal (which is nominal).
Traditionally, Texas law has treated pets the same way it treats other personal property, limiting damages to market value. In this case, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals deviated from this approach, stating: “Sentimental damages may now be recovered for the loss or destruction of all types of personal property,” the appeals court ruled. “Because of the special position pets hold in their family, we see no reason why existing law should not be interpreted to allow recovery in the loss of a pet.” Now it is up to the Texas Supreme Court to decide whether the Fort Worth Court’s approach will stand.
This ruling could have wide-reaching implications to litigation across Texas, including family law cases. With pets being an integral part of many families, Texas divorce lawyers have long struggled with how to handle pet custody in a legal system that defines them as mere property. While the pending Supreme Court case will not set precedent for pet possession schedules, a ruling upholding sentimental value could pave the way for new arguments on valuation and property division in divorces where pets are an issue.
We have been following this case since the Fort Worth Court of Appeals issued its opinion early this spring. Read Michelle May O’Neil’s previous blog on this subject: Doggie Damages Possible in Divorce? Stay tuned for an update on oral argument.