With the animal rights and welfare movements gaining momentum in the United States, animals are being viewed in a much different light by the courts these days. I recently read an article centered on family law and the division of assets, namely the family dog. The court in that cases took the dogs best interests into consideration when determining "custody" of the pooch. Needless to say, courts across the nation are starting to see pets as slightly more than property, but not quite to the status of attaining rights themselves…well that is until recently.
Last Friday the Supreme Court of Texas ruled that owners of a dearly departed dog may not file lawsuits for the sentimental value of their pet. It seems that pet owners may only be compensated in the amount of fair market value of their deceased pet. “Under Texas common law, the human-animal bond, while undeniable, is uncompensable,” Justice Don R. Willett wrote in the court’s unanimous reversal of the former 2nd Court of Appeals ruling.
Accidental Euthanization of Family Pet
The previous Court of Appeals ruling allowed Jeremy and Kathryn Medlen, a couple from Fort Worth, Texas to sue a local animal shelter for mistakenly euthanizing their family dog, Avery, back in 2009. Allegedly the dog had escaped from the couples’ home during a storm and was retrieved by the shelter. According to a local paper, the shelter mistakenly euthanized Avery before the Medlen’s were able to come and claim him.
Randy Turner, the attorney representing the Medlens said that the couple’s aim was to change current state law more so than receive monetary compensation. “You can recover the sentimental value of a photo of your dog if it’s destroyed, but you cannot recover the sentimental value of a dog if it’s destroyed,” Turner said.
Despite the Texas Court's interpretation of the 120 year old law, I am confident that with a little more time and perhaps some additional litigation the bench will begin to recognize that for many of us, pets are more than just a piece of property.
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