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Texas Supreme Court Rules On Landmark Non-Economic Damages Case

AUSTIN, Texas, April 5, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On April 5, the Texas Supreme Court ruled on Medlen v. Strickland, a case with the potential to dramatically alter the legal relationship between people and animals. The Fort Worth Court of Appeals departed from long-settled law and allowed the recovery of non-economic damages for the death of a dog that was accidentally euthanized after being picked up by the local animal control after the owner was unable to timely pay for its release. The Texas Supreme Court overruled this decision and upheld precedent that non-economic, emotionally based damages could not be claimed on the death of an animal.

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This is a great decision for pet owners and animals in general, and the Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA) commends the court in making such a decision. Veterinarians devote their lives to caring for and preventing the suffering of animals and without a doubt understand the deep bond that develops between people and their pets. They sympathize with families over the losses of their animals, but they were also aware that such a dramatic change to the way that courts in Texas apply the law would have had vast unintended consequences.

TVMA supports maintaining the current legal system because it values animals, encourages responsible animal ownership, deters animal abuse and promotes innovative, affordable and quality animal care. The current legal system has produced a stable climate for animal care that has made pet ownership economically viable for most people. If the Fort Worth Court of Appeals decision had been upheld, individuals would have been able to file suit and collect large monetary recoveries for the death or injury of an animal, recoveries that are not usually available for the death of a person. The routine awarding of such damages would turn pet litigation into a cottage industry and ultimately drive up the cost of everything associated with the care of pets, including veterinary care, medicine, boarding, grooming, etc., making owning a pet cost-prohibitive for many people. Such damage awards would fundamentally change the way veterinarians practice medicine by forcing them to practice defensively, which translated to increased costs for veterinary care.

In the opinion on the case, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don R. Willett writes, "It is an inconvenient, yet inescapable, truth: 'Tort law . . . cannot remedy every wrong.' Lines, seemingly arbitrary, are required. No one disputes that a family dog—'in life the firmest friend'—is a treasured companion. But it is also personal property, and the law draws sensible, policy-based distinctions between types of property. The majority rule throughout most of America—including Texas since 1891—leavens warm-heartedness with sober-mindedness, applying a rational rule rather than an emotional one. For the reasons discussed above, we decline to (1) jettison our 122-year-old precedent classifying dogs as ordinary property, and (2) permit non-economic damages rooted in relational attachment."

For more information on the case, visit www.tvma.org, or to read Justice Willett's full opinion, visit www.supreme.courts.state.tx.us/historical/2013/apr/120047.pdf.

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