Can you put a price tag on man’s best friend? It’s a question that the Texas Supreme Court will attempt to answer in the next few weeks, as a lawsuit brought by grieving pet owners nears resolution.
In the summer of 2009, Jeremy and Kathryn Medlen’s Labrador retriever, Avery, escaped from their home in Fort Worth. A few days later they received a call from the local animal control center, telling them that Avery had been found and was ready to be picked up.
But when Jeremy Medlen and his two small children arrived at the dog pound, they were met with a shock: Avery had accidentally been put down the previous day, when pound worker Carla Strickland mistakenly added him to the list of animals to be euthanized.
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The family sued Strickland — starting a legal process that’s still going on more than three years later.
Texas state law includes a 1963 ruling that people can sue to reclaim the “sentimental value” of property – family heirlooms and photographs, for example — even if it has no monetary value.
“Problem is, they never applied sentimental value to dogs,” the Medlens’ attorney, Randy Turner, told ABC News. “You can sue and recover the sentimental value of a photograph, but not the dog itself.”
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The case has at times descended into farce, as the Associated Press reports. From the start, justices on the nine-member bench peppered Turner with questions and hypotheticals — including one from Justice Don Willett, who asked where a stuffed dog might fall under this standard — resulting in stifled laughs from the courtroom gallery.
Chief justice of the court Wallace Jefferson also raised the concern that insurance rates would “skyrocket” if the court allowed sentimental damages for pet losses, reports the Wall Street Journal.
But the most fundamental question for the Court might be how we might quantify the amount of affection an owner has for a pet in the first place — and whether all pets are created equal. “My dog may be worth $1 million to me—should that much money go to an owner for pain and suffering?” asked Elizabeth Choate, general counsel for the Texas Veterinary Medical Association. “Should cats be valued more than dogs, or hamsters or goldfish?”