You may have heard about an unusual recent Texas court of appeals opinion in the case of Medlen v. Strickland, http://www.law.com/jsp/tx/LawDecisionTX.jsp?id=1202529741831&slreturn=1, allowing the award of “sentimental” or “intrinsic” damages for loss of a dog. The facts of the case are certainly tragic, involving the unfortunate and mistaken euthanasia of a dog by a city animal shelter. What’s puzzling is why some self-proclaimed animal lovers are ecstatic with the court’s decision. Ironically, the opinion is based on the fact that animals are considered property, and as such, owners are entitled to emotional damages that are unique to their loss, similar to damages suffered for loss of a unique photograph that otherwise has little replacement value. The AVMA, Texas VMA and several organizations represeting pet owners and animal service providers have asked that same Ft. Worth appeals court to reconsider its decision. Why? Simply put, if this becomes the law of the land, it will lead to higher costs to own a pet, disproportionally hurting middle class and low income pet owners. Who will pay for those higher damage awards? The rest of us pet owners of course. That’s one thing I don’t get about animal lovers advocating for big damage awards in lawsuits involving animals. The obvious consequences will include fewer people being able to own pets and unfortunately, more animal abandonment.
Incidentally, I have to set the record straight on something. Contrary to some claims, long-standing Texas law has not been overturned. Rather we have conflicting court of appeals opinions on this issue. If the Ft. Worth court of appeals does not reconsider its decision, the state’s supreme court or legislature will need to step in and provide some clarity to help Texas get out of this “state of confusion.”
For more on why non-economic damages are bad for both pets and their owners, see http://www.avma.org/advocacy/state/issues/non-econo_damages.asp.