Bailey & Galyen Attorney Wins Rights for Dog Owners

The Medlen family’s dog Avery escaped from their backyard during a storm and was picked up by Fort Worth Animal Control.  Jeremy Medlen went to retrieve Avery but did not have enough money with him to pay the fees.  He was told that he could return later for Avery and a “hold for owner” tag was placed on Avery’s cage.  Strickland, an animal control officer, made a list of animals to be euthanized and put Avery’s name on the list even though he had a “hold for owner” tag.  When Medlen later returned with his children to pick up Avery they learned to their horror that he had been mistakenly euthanized.  Avery was like a family member and the Medlens were devastated.  They sued Strickland for negligence and alleged that although Avery had no market value he had great sentimental value.  Strickland asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit based on an 1891 Texas Supreme Court decision that said that a dog owner whose dog is killed may only recover the “market value” or “pecuniary value” of the dog.  The trial court dismissed the case and Bailey & Galyen attorney Randy Turner appealed to the Second Court of Appeals.

Turner argued that in subsequent cases the Supreme Court held that where personal property has little or no market value and its main value is in sentiment, damages may be awarded based on this intrinsic or sentimental value.  He argued that dogs have always been considered “personal property” under Texas law and that there is nothing in those later opinions indicating that the Supreme Court intended to exclude dogs from the “sentimental value” rule.  He said it would be irrational to treat dogs differently than all other personal property.  For example, it has long been the law that a person whose family photo album is destroyed may sue to recover the sentimental value of the album.  It would make no sense to allow sentimental value damages for family photos of the dog but not for the dog itself.

The Court of Appeals agreed and held that, “because an owner may be awarded damages based on the sentimental value of lost personal property, and because dogs are personal property, the trial court erred in dismissing the Medlens’ action against Strickland.”  For the first time in Texas history a dog owner whose dog was killed by another may sue to recover damages for the sentimental value of the dog.  As a result of this ruling, veterinarians, kennels, groomers and others who care for people’s pets now have a legal incentive to take good care of the animals in their possession.

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