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Pets are property in the eyes of the law, and the Texas Supreme Court declines to permit non-economic damages rooted solely in an owner's subjective feelings. True, a beloved companion dog is not a fungible, inanimate object like, say, a toaster. The term "property" is not a pejorative but a legal descriptor, and its use should not be misconstrued as discounting the emotional attachment that pet owners undeniably feel. Nevertheless, under established legal doctrine, recovery in pet-death cases is, barring legislative reclassification, limited to loss of value, not loss of relationship.
The owners' dog escaped from their yard and was picked up by animal control. The animal shelter hung a "hold for owner" tag on the dog's cage to alert employees that the owners were coming and to ensure that he was not euthanized. Despite the tag, the employee mistakenly placed the dog on the euthanasia list, and he was put to sleep. The owners sued the employee for causing the dog's death and sought "sentimental or intrinsic value" damages since the dog had little or no market value but was irreplaceable. The trial court dismissed the suit with prejudice, holding that Texas law barred such damages. The court of appeals reversed. The employee sought further review.
Could the dog owner recover damages for the dog’s “sentimental or intrinsic value”?
On review, the Court held that pets were property in the eyes of the law. The Court declined to permit non-economic damages rooted solely in the owners’ subjective feelings. Recovery in pet-death cases was, barring legislative reclassification, limited to loss of value, not loss of relationship. Loss of companionship, the gravamen of the owners’ claim, was fundamentally a form of personal-injury damage, not property damage. It was a component of loss of consortium. Loss-of-consortium damages were available only for a few close family relationships. Thus, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and rendered judgment in favor of the employee.