Texas Supreme Court to make definitive ruling on pets' sentimental value

A back-and-forth battle to determine whether people can sue for the sentimental value of their pets will get a definitive decision in the Texas Supreme Court in 2013.

The court listened to oral arguments on Jan. 10 and is expected to announce a verdict within the next nine months, according to Mason County Daily News.

Veterinarians in the state will be watching intently, as the decision could have significant financial and legal implications for their practices.

At issue is a 120-year-old Texas Supreme Court ruling declaring that people are only allowed to sue for their pet’s market value. The ruling was overturned by the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth in 2011 as a result of a couple’s lawsuit against an animal shelter employee alleging that their dog was mistakenly euthanized.

The 2nd Court of Appeals decision stated that: "Because of the special position pets hold in their family, we see no reason why existing law should not be interpreted to allow recovery in the loss of a pet at least to the same extent as any other personal property."

Now, the animal shelter employee is appealing the ruling from the lower court.

If the animal shelter employee's appeal is unsuccessful, it could put Texas veterinarians in the precarious position of being devoted to providing high-quality care to patients and clients, while at the same time being exposed to potentially heavy financial penalties in the event of malpractice lawsuits.

In 2012, John Cayce, an attorney for the animal shelter employee, told Star-Telegram.com he was concerned that the current ruling from the 2nd Court of Appeals allows for pet owners to sue for unlimited emotional damages, which could expose veterinarians to high malpractice insurance premiums and big jury verdicts.

"They have proved that the emotional sentimental value of a pet could be as high as the national debt," Cayce told the media.

Additionally, Cayce speculated that veterinarians’ increased insurance costs could translate to higher service costs for their clients.

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