The Texas Supreme Court struggled with this issue in Strickland v. Medlen, 56 Tex. S. Ct. J. 470, 2013 WL 1366033 (2013). The facts of the case are sad:
The Medlen family owned a mixed-breed dog named Avery. In June 2009, Avery escaped from the backyard. Fort Worth animal control impounded him. Mr. Medlen went to retrieve Avery, but didn’t have enough money on him to pay the fees. The shelter placed a “hold for owner” tag on Avery’s cage so that he would not be killed. Despite the tag, shelter worker Carla Strickland put Avery’s name on the list of animals to be “put down.” Avery was destroyed. To make things worse, apparently the shelter didn’t bother to notify the Medlens that their cherished pet had been killed. The family only learned Avery was dead when Mr. Medlen brought his two small children to the shelter to retrieve Avery. Instead of a happy reunion, shock and tears ensued.
The Medlens were devastated. Their beloved family member had been killed, due to the incompetence of a shelter worker. They sued Carla Strickland, seeking damages for their loss.
What damages are recoverable for the loss of a family pet? Can a dollar value be placed on love? Can “man’s best friend” be valued for his loyalty and friendship? Not in Texas; the Texas Supreme Court held that the Medlens could recover the economic value of Avery, but not his sentimental or emotional value to the family.
The Court set forth the “true rule” in Texas: “Where a dog’s market value is unascertainable, the correct damages measure is the dog’s “special or pecuniary value” (that is, its actual value) – the economic value derived from its “usefulness and services,” not value drawn from companionship or other non-commercial considerations.” The reasoning of the case is interesting and worth your time to read.