In Stickland v. Medlen, 397 S.W.3d 184 (Tex. 2013), the Texas Supreme Court addressed whether an aggrieved party may recover non-economic damages for the wrongful death of a pet or animal. Under the facts of that case, the family dog was accidentally euthanized by an animal shelter, and the plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that the loss of the dog had caused “sentimental or intrinsic value” damages. The Supreme Court rejected the plaintiff’s theory, and focused the right of recovery on economic impact, rather than emotional loss.
The Court relied on the over a century old decision in Heiligmann v. Rose, 16 S.W. 931 (Tex. 1891), which held that the value for the death of a dog was restricted to “market value, if the dog has any” or some “special or pecuniary value to the owner, that may be ascertained by reference to the usefulness and services of the dog.” But Heiligmann v. Rose tied “special value” to a dog’s economic attributes, not to emotional or otherwise subjective factors. This 1891 interpretation has stood the test of time, as is reflected most recently in the Strickland v. Medlin decision. Same Old Dog, Same Old Case.
The Court in Stickland v. Medlen emphasized the importance of animals in our society by stating “…that is precisely why Texas law forbids animal cruelty generally (both civilly and criminally), and bans dog fighting and unlawful restraints of dogs specifically—because animals, though property, are unique.” The Court also made reference to a comment from the Restatement (Third) of Torts as follows: “Recovery for intentionally inflicted emotional harm is not barred when the defendant’s method of inflicting harm is by means of causing harm to property, including an animal.” Ultimately, however, the Court decided that the common law in Texas does not provide for the recovery of emotional loss damages in this situation.
The Court’s opinion puts forth common law principles and public policy concerns in its rationale. Fundamentally, the Court found that animals and pets are property. The Court made the point that emotional distress is typically not recoverable for property damage, but is rather more suitable to recovery for personal injury damages caused to human beings. In short, animals are not humans. While this approach by Texas courts has been the source of debate for years, it seems that the old is new again when it comes to the analysis of emotional damages and pets.
Williams, McClure & Parmelee is dedicated to high quality legal representation of businesses and insurance companies in a variety of matters. We are experienced Texas civil litigation attorneys based in Fort Worth who know Texas courts and Texas law. For more information, please contact the law firm at 817-335-8800. The firm’s office location is 5601 Bridge Street, Suite 300, Fort Worth, Texas 76112.