On April 5th, 2013, the Texas Supreme Court handed down a less-than-surprising opinion that no matter how much you may love your dog, you cannot recover mental anguish damages when someone else negligently kills or injures them. Cause No. 12-0047, Strickland v. Medlen was the first case since 1891 to be heard by the Supreme Court regarding whether a dog is more than mere property. In overturning the Court of Appeals, they held that a dog is nothing but a mere chattel–that is, a piece of property.
Strickland v Medlen involved a case where the Medlen’s dog was picked up by animal control after it got out of their yard. They went to retrieve it but did not have enough money. A tag was placed on the cage that the owners were to return to get the dog once they retrieved more money to pay the fees. However, Strickland accidentally put the dog on the euthanize list and it was euthanized.
In an opinion issued in 1891, the Texas Supreme Court held that because a dog is mere property, and owner was limited to recovery of market value or, if there was none, “special or pecuniary” value linked to the dogs “usefulness and services.” On April 5th, 2013, that holding was reaffirmed. This happened, despite the fact that since that 1891 opinion came out, losses of other property such as as family heirlooms have been allowed by Texas courts a recovery based upon sentimental value.
In reaching their decision, the Texas Supreme Court pointed to the fact that under common law, wrongful death damages do not even exist regarding humans. These claims had to be created by the legislature in the form of a Wrongful Death Statute. To allow a common law cause of action for the death of a dog when no such cause of action exists there for humans makes no sense. They then said it was up to the legislature to create a cause of action by statute if they so chose to do so. Until that happens, the law will continue to see dogs and other pets as mere property with its only value being measured by its sale price or utility.