Pet Owners Can Now Sue per Texas Court

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This Could Change Everything
Written By: Susan Thixton11-14-2011Categorized in: Pet Food News, Pets

Though this is just a beginning, the door has finally been opened. The Texas Court of Appeals has determined that Pet Owners can sue for "special value" - such as sentimental value - with the loss of a pet. This is huge.

Jeremy and Katherine Medlen of Forth Worth Texas have pushed an issue that can change the future for all of us. Their dog, was put to sleep at the city's animal control center, despite the family having a hold put on the dog. The family took the issue to court and in state appeals court in Forth Worth "ruled for the first time that a pet's value is greater than its price tag."

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Dogs are unconditionally devoted to their owners," says the ruling from the Texas 2nd Court of Appeals. "We interpret timeworn Supreme Court law ... to acknowledge that the special value of 'man's best friend' should be protected."

In June 2009, Avery (the dog) escaped from his back yard. The next day, Jeremy Medlen found Avery at the Fort Worth animal shelter. Fees to free the dog from the shelter weren't readily available, but the shelter told Jeremy they would "put a "hold for owner" tag on his cage to make sure he wasn't euthanized, court records show." When Jeremy returned the next day, the shelter again wouldn't release Avery until they could implant a microchip in the dog; the veterinarian would be returning in a few days to do that.

Finally, when that day had arrived, Jeremy and his children showed up at the shelter ready to bring Avery back home. Only to find their dog had been euthanized.

"Eventually, the Medlens sued the worker believed to have put Avery on the euthanasia list, saying her negligence led to his death. They asked for "sentimental or intrinsic value" because Avery had little market value "and was irreplaceable," according to court records. Their lawsuit did not specify the amount of damages.

Past court rulings said an animal's market value was essentially the only amount that could be recovered; a Tarrant County judge had already dismissed the lawsuit because the Medlens were suing for sentimental value.

The Medlens appealed the dismissal.

After the suit had been in the legal system 11/2 years, a panel of the 2nd Second Court of Appeals ruled for the Medlens this month, saying the "special value" of pets should be preserved.

"It is the first time in Texas history that an appeals court has allowed a dog owner to recover sentimental-value damages for the death of a dog," said Randy Turner, the Fort Worth attorney who represents the Medlens. "This is a huge deal for pet owners. Up until the Medlen case, if a person came to see me wanting to sue someone for killing their dog, I had to tell them it was not worth it.

"No matter how attached they were to their pet, and no matter how devastated they were by its death, ... they [had been] only entitled to the 'market value' of the animal," said Turner, who is handling the case for no payment. "Now a jury can at least put a sentimental value on an animal that is otherwise worthless in terms of what it could have sold for on the open market."

There is no information yet if the case will be appealed - which would send the case to the Texas Supreme Court. But...if it stands...this can (and will) change everything.

Future pet food recalls...when a pet dies due to contaminated or toxic pet food...the Pet Owner will have the ability to sue for sentimental value. Imagine if this would have been the case in 2007? Now we have some real hope for change in the future. Nothing like the concern of money loss to hold pet food accountable.

Right IS Might! It is Right that pet parents should be able to sue for sentimental value when someone or something (like pet food) recklessly kills their pet. The industry makes billions off of the human bond between us and our pets, it is time they are held responsible for careless actions.

Three Cheers for Texas! Three Cheers for Jeremy and Katherine Medlen! Avery...your family has stood up for the rights of all pet parents and their actions can save many lives. I'm sure they miss you; be confident that you will never be forgotten.

Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,

Susan Thixton
Pet Food Safety Advocate
Author, Buyer Beware
Co-Author Dinner PAWsible