ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Friday, January 18, 2013

Can Pet Owners Recover Emotional Damages from Animal Shelter?

Apparently the Supreme Court of Texas will decide this issue in Strickland v. Medlen.  According to the Wall Street Journal:

In 2009, Avery, a spotted mixed-breed dog, escaped from his Fort Worth home and was taken to a city animal shelter where workers promised to hold him until his owners picked him up. Instead, he was put to death.

Avery's owners sued the shelter employee who mistakenly ordered the killing, raising an emotionally charged issue argued Thursday at the Texas Supreme Court: Can people be compensated for the sentimental value of a lost pet?

Texas law awards damages for the "market value" of a lost pet, which is defined as the price the animal would fetch at sale. But it is an open question in Texas whether pet owners can also be compensated for their emotional losses. The issue has split courts in other states.

The case sounds in tort (negligence) but it does in essence allege a breached promise (to hold the dog until the owners picked him up).

This video interview provides a nice overview of the case:

Should damages be assessed based on the dog's market value (tricky to assess - and maybe zero - for a mutt) or intrinsic/sentimental value to his owners?  

Here's a link to the oral argument before the Texas Supreme Court on January 10th.

[Meredith R. Miller]

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