FORT WORTH (CN) - A Texas appeals court ruled that the owners of a mistakenly euthanized dog can sue to recover the sentimental value of their lost pet, reversing and remanding the ruling of a trial court. The closely reasoned opinion cites more than a century of Texas courts rulings on dogs.
The Court of Appeals for the 2nd District of Texas reinstated Kathryn and Jeremy Medlen's negligence lawsuit against Carla Strickland, a City of Fort Worth animal shelter employee.
According to court filings, their 8-year-old Labrador mix, Avery, escaped from the Medlens' back yard and was picked up by the city's animal control.
Jeremy Medlen went to the shelter to bail out Avery, but did not have enough cash in hand to pay the fees. He was told he could return the next day and that a hold-for-owner tag would be placed on Avery's cage, to prevent him from being euthanized. But Avery was killed the next day before the Medlens could pick him up.
The Medlens sued for "sentimental or intrinsic" damages.
Strickland objected, saying such damages are not recoverable for the death of a dog.
The First Tarrant County Court at Law dismissed for failure to state a claim for damages recognized by law. The court said the Medlens could recover only the market value of the dog.
Defendant Strickland "contends that under an 1891 supreme court case, dogs are treated differently under the law than other personal property. See Heiligmann v. Rose, 81 Tex. 222, 16 S.W. 931 (Tex. 1891)," Justice Lee Gabriel wrote for the three-judge panel. "For dogs, a party can only recover the market value, if there is any, or a special or pecuniary value determined by the usefulness or services of the dog. Id. at 932. Strickland argues that Heiligmann prohibits consideration of the sentimental value of the animal in determining its 'usefulness' to the owner.
"In Heiligmann, the trial court awarded damages to the appellees after three of their dogs were maliciously poisoned by Heiligmann. Id. at 931. The dogs 'were of a fine breed, and well trained'; one of the dogs used different barks to signal to appellees whether an approaching person was a man, woman, or child. Id. at 932. One of the appellees testified that the dogs could have been sold for $5 each, but that she would not have been willing to part with them for $50 apiece. Id. Heiligmann argued that there was no evidence presented supporting a market or pecuniary value of the dogs or that their use or service was valuable to their owner. Id. The court upheld the damages award, holding that the value of a dog may be determined by 'either a market value, if the dog has any, or some special or pecuniary value to the owner, that may be ascertained by reference to the usefulness and services of the dog.' Id. In that case, 'the evidence [was] ample showing the usefulness and services of the dogs, and that they were of special value to the owner.' Id. The court reasoned that the jury could infer the value of the dogs 'when the owner, by evidence, fixes some amount upon which they could form a basis.' Id.