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Texas Supreme Court Reverses Lower Court, Reaffirms Legal Status of Animals

(Monday, April 08, 2013)

On Friday, April 5, the Supreme Court of Texas issued its opinion in the case of Strickland v. Medlen. In a majority opinion authored by Justice Don R. Willet, the court noted that pets hold a special place in the hearts of their owners, but ultimately held that non-economic damages are not available in cases involving the negligent death of a pet. This reversed a decision of a Texas appeals court, which previously held that non-economic damages should be available in such cases.

For well over a century, laws governing animal ownership and animal care in Texas have been remarkably consistent. These laws have created a stable legal system that promotes responsible animal ownership, deters animal abuse, and promotes innovative, affordable, and quality animal care. Under this system, which includes criminal and civil liability laws, owners whose pets are negligently injured or killed are able to be fully and fairly compensated. In Texas, as in many other states, pet owners can recover the economic value of a pet, any veterinarian bills resulting from an alleged injury, and in some instances, other reasonable and necessary costs arising out of the injury.

By way of contrast, compensation for an owner's emotional loss, which is typically not available to cases involving damage to personal property but instead reserved only for cases involving an immediate family member, like a spouse or a parent, has been almost universally rejected in pet injury and death cases. Additionally, significant adverse consequences flowing from such awards—including increased pet health care costs resulting in pricing that would be out of reach of many dog owners, increased public health risks, liability concerns that may cause some free animal care services to close, and discouraging animal ownership that may result in needless euthanizations—far outweigh any benefits they might provide.

The American Kennel Club (AKC), along with pet welfare organizations, Cat Fanciers' Association, Animal Health Institute, American Veterinary Medical Association, National Animal Interest Alliance, American Pet Products Association, and Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, submitted a friend of the court brief to the Court, which was quoted throughout the Court's opinion.

For more information, contact AKC's Government Relations Department at (919) 816-3720, or email doglaw@akc.org.

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