How much is a pet worth? Court to rule on sentimental value

How much is a pet worth? Court to rule on sentimental value

Texas Supreme Court is debating whether the Medlen family, pictured right, can sue for emotional damage after their dog, Avery, was mistakenly euthanized at an animal shelter in 2009. (Courtesy Medlen Family)

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by Maria Nikias

ABC NEWS

Posted on January 11, 2013 at 12:11 PM

(ABC NEWS) -- A case that may reflect a pet owner's worst nightmare has made its way to the Texas Supreme Court, which must decide if a family can place sentimental value on a pet that was accidentally euthanized.

Approximately three years ago, Jeremy and Kathryn Medlen's family dog, Avery, escaped from their yard during a thunderstorm.

Days later, the Medlens were happy to hear Fort Worth Animal Control had found their beloved pet and they could come by to pick him up.

"When Jeremy and his two small children went to go pick up Avery, they were told they accidentally killed him the day before," Medlen's attorney, Randy Turner said.

Fort Worth Animal Control had labeled Avery's cage "hold for owner," meaning don't euthanize, Turner said. But a worker at the facility apparently euthanized Avery anyway.

"She went through and picked the dogs that needed to be euthanized and accidentally picked Avery," said Turner.

It was then the family decided to hire Turner, who took the case free of charge, to sue the worker, Carla Strickland, for negligence and accidentally euthanizing Avery.

The Medlens, Turner said, "wanted to know if there's anything they could [do to] stop this from happening to anyone else."

In 1963, Texas adopted a "sentimental value rule," which provided that if property is wrongfully destroyed and that property had no market value, then the parties involved could sue.

"Problem is, they never applied sentimental value to dogs," said Turner. "You can sue and recover the sentimental value of a photograph, but not the dog itself."

Originally, the case was dismissed after a judge ruled the Medlens could not recover damages for companionship with their dog. However, an appeals court ruled in favor of the Medlens and the case went to the Texas Supreme Court.

Carla Strickland's attorney, John Cayce, said his client feels terrible about the situation.

"Ms. Strickland, from day one, has been devastated by the unfortunate accident that occurred that led to Avery's death," Cayce said.

However, he added, assigning sentimental value to pets would have broad implications.

"This case really goes beyond the dispute between Strickland and the Medlens," said Cayce. "It would have an adverse impact on just the average citizen in the state that might accidentally run over a dog on the way to work. With that kind of liability, the insurance rates would go up."

Furthermore, Cayce said, "They have proved that the emotional sentimental value of a pet could be as high as the national debt."

Turner said that the Medlens are not looking for money, but rather, "We're simply asking the court to recognize the value society places on animals, now."

The court will rule on the case sometime in the next nine months, according to both attorneys.

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