The Forth Worth Court of Appeals recently released the opinion in Medlen v.Strickland holding that a pet owner could recover sentimental or intrinsic value damages for the loss of a pet. The Medlen opinion flies in the face of the 120 year old Texas Supreme Court case of Heiligmann v. Rose decided in 1891. In Heiligmann the Texas Supreme Court held that the value of a dog was to be determined either by the market value or the pecuniary value to the owner. No case since that time has held that a pet owner could recover sentimental damages for the loss of a pet. The Medlen Court points to the more recent Texas Supreme Court cases of City of Tyler v. Likes and Porras v. Craig, both of which held that when personal property has little or no market value that the intrinsic or sentimental value may be used as a measure of damages. No court has applied this analysis to the loss of a pet until Medlen.
Medlen v. Strickland raises a number of interesting questions. If a motorist strikes and injures a cat in the roadway will the motorist, and consequently his automobile liability insurance company, be potentially liable to the cat’s owner for sentimental damages? If a dog escapes from a fenced enclosure and kills the neighbors’ pot bellied pig will the dog owner, and consequently his homeowner’s liability carrier, be liable for intrinsic value damages for the death of the pig? If a dog expires during a medical procedure will the veterinarian, and consequently her malpractice liability carrier, be potentially liable for sentimental damages?
Since Medlen contradicts a 120 year old legal precedent it is highly likely that the Texas Supreme Court will agree to hear this matter. Studies suggest a very high correlation between insurance industry interests and Texas Supreme Court rulings in recent years. With the malpractice liability insurance industry, the automobile liability insurance industry and the homeowner’s liability insurance industry all having a “dog in this hunt”, Medlen v. Strickland is likely to be short lived.