Back in January I reported in “Legislative Updates: Can Dog Owners Sue for ‘Emotional Value’?” that the Texas Supreme Court had begun looking at whether or not owners can sue for monetary damages if another party is found responsible for the loss of their pet. Medlen v. Strickland originated when a couple’s dog was “mistakenly euthanized” at a shelter in Fort Worth when the pair was unable to immediately pay an $80 fine to have their dog released. Although the shelter reportedly placed a “hold” on the dog, when the owners returned with money in hand to pick up their pet, they discovered he had been put to sleep.
On April 5 the court ruled that “emotion based damages, including loss of companionship and sentimental damages, are not permitted in pet injury claims in Texas,” according to attorney Phil Goldberg, who with his partner, Victor Schwartz, filed an amicus brief with the court in opposition to the awarding of damages.
Here are some of the court’s comments:
“We acknowledge the grief of those whose companions are negligently killed. Relational attachment is unquestionable. But it is also uncompensable. (…) The ‘true rule’ in Texas remains this: Where a dog’s market value is unascertainable, the correct damages measure is the dog’s ‘special or pecuniary value’ (that is, its actual value) – the economic value derived from its ‘usefulness and services,’ not value drawn from companionship or other non-commercial considerations… As a matter of law an owner’s affection for a dog (or ferret or parakeet or tarantula) is not compensable.”
As Goldberg reported, “the court further explained that emotional attachment one has to a pet is akin to the attachments people have with other people, which is not compensable in tort law.” The court noted that “the Medlens seek emotion-based damages for the death of ‘man’s best friend’ when the law denies such damages for the death of a human best friend.”
In January the Dallas Morning News reported that the Medlens were not trying to collect compensation for the loss of their pet, but they wanted to change the law so that their “dog’s loss was not in vain.”
The American Kennel Club, the Cat Fanciers’ Association and other animal-service providers were not in support of a law awarding damages based on emotional attachment. These organizations were concerned that “pet litigation will become a cottage industry, exposing veterinarians, shelter and kennel workers, animal-rescue workers, even dog sitters, to increased liability. (…) As risks and costs rise, there would be fewer free clinics for spaying and neutering, fewer shelters taking in animals, fewer services like walking and boarding, and fewer people adopting pets, leaving more animals abandoned and ultimately put down.”
Protecting K-9 Officers, Plus Insurance Concerns
Typically we report at Best In Show Daily on legislation that is worrisome, but on occasion there are laws passed of which we simply want our readers to be aware. On Monday, March 25, the New York State Senate “overwhelmingly passed legislation that increases the penalty level for killing or inuring a police dog” from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class D felony, according to Niagara Frontier Publications. The legislation, written in part as a result of the loss of a Niagara County K-9 unit member and an FBI dog over the past two years, will now go to the state assembly. “Police animals like Rocky and Ape do a remarkable job in protecting and serving our state,” said Sen. George Maziarz. “After these incidents were over, police officers were able to return home to their spouses and children because the dogs gave their (lives) to protect them and the residents of that community. … It is time that we provide these animals the protection they deserve under the law when they are injured or die in the line of duty.”
Back to legislation that is of concern, a proposed breeder bill in West Virginia, which vaguely defines a commercial breeder as one who owns 11 or more male or female intact dogs “for the exclusive purpose of actively breeding,” passed the state senate on April 3, and has advanced to the house. Contact information for state representatives can be found on the AKC website, and as AKC still has reservations about some of the language in the bill, residents are encouraged to contact their delegates and house members to express their opinions.
Likewise in Maine, several bills have been filed that “could ultimately impact the state’s dog breeders and owners,” according to AKC. LD 1239 would create new definitions and require licenses for “commercial boarding or training kennels, commercial breeder kennels and personal kennels.” AKC also provides contact information for 14 senators and representatives who should be contacted by residents concerned about this pending legislation.
On the positive side in Maine, LD 1192 would prohibit insurance companies from refusing to issue, failing to renew or canceling property insurance, or increases in premiums, solely based on the policyholder’s ownership of a certain breed of dog. Representatives should also be contacted regarding this bill and encouraged to support it.
On the same topic, on Tuesday next week the New York Assembly Codes Committee will consider legislation that would prohibit insurance carriers from denying, canceling or raising premiums for homeowner’s policies based on the policyholder’s ownership of a particular breed of dog. Information for contacting representatives to express support for this bill can be found here.
Best In Show Daily reports biweekly on legislative actions around the country that will or may impact dog ownership. The American Kennel Club government relations office also maintains a list of Legislative Alerts on its website, where fanciers can stay up-to-date on current issues in dog-related legislation around the United States and find contact information when legislation is pending in their area.