The Texas Supreme Court last week ruled to uphold a standing precedent that pets are considered personal property in the eyes of the law. The court rejected claims for emotional damages put forward by Texas pet parents Jeremy and Kathryn Medlen. The case concerned their dog Avery, who was euthanized in 2009.
The couple decided to head to court that year when their dog escaped their home and ended up accidentally euthanized. The dog was picked up by animal control and taken to a shelter, where Jeremy Medlen went to reclaim the dog. He didn’t have the money to pay the release fee, and was told he could return by a certain date with the money and reclaim his dog. Four days before the agreed-upon date, a shelter worker mistakenly placed the dog on a list to be euthanized, and Avery was gone when the Medlens returned.
The couple sued for emotional damages based on Avery’s intrinsic and sentimental value, but the judge dismissed the case, holding that pets are to be treated as personal property. Just as one can’t claim emotional damages from the loss of a toaster, for example, emotional damages can’t be claimed for pets.
While any pet parent can sympathize with the couple’s plight, not everyone disagrees with the court ruling. The Texas Veterinary Medical Association supported the decision in a press release on April 5th, saying, “Veterinarians devote their lives to caring for and preventing the suffering of animals and without a doubt understand the deep bond that develops between people and their pets. They sympathize with families over the losses of their animals, but they were also aware that such a dramatic change to the way that courts in Texas apply the law would have had vast unintended consequences.”
A similar ruling was made recently in New Jersey, but in California, an appeals court upheld $50,000 in emotional damages for the loss of a pet in a trespassing case.
Clearly, emotions run high where pets are involved, but just how should the law respond? Do you think pet parents should be able to claim more than the property value of a pet in a case of negligence like this? What about where veterinary care is concerned? Could there be unintended consequences to allowing for emotional damages?
Sound off in the comments below.