Dog Gone It

If a cherished dog is negligently killed, can a dollar value be placed on the owner’s heartfelt affection? May a bereaved dog owner recover emotion-based damages for loss? In 1891, the Texas Supreme Court said no. Pet dogs are personal property for whose loss non-economic damages cannot be recovered. In 2011, a Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, basing its ruling on changing times and attitudes, said yes.

Now the Texas Supreme Court has again considered the issue – and said no, affirming its 122 year old precedent. See Strickland v. Medlen, No. 12-0047, (Tex. April 5, 2013).

Justice Don Willett acknowledged that “Texans love their dogs. Throughout the Lone Star State, canine companions are treated—and treasured—not as mere personal property but as beloved friends and confidants, even family members. Given the richness that companion animals add to our everyday lives, losing ‘man’s best friend’ is undoubtedly sorrowful. Even the gruffest among us tears up (every time) at the end of Old Yeller.” Nevertheless damages for anything but the economic value may not be recovered. One might recover thousands of dollars for the loss of a best of show Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, but nary a cent for that faithful old mutt of undetermined parentage. All dogs are not created equal.

Tell that to a cat.

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