Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: Ontario, Canada
Interesting issue, Merry! I recall reading about this case a while back. The issue is not really what a dog is worth…but whether or not a person should have the legal right to sue for the sentimental value of a pet, rather than just the market/replacement value. In some States, including Texas, people CAN sue for the sentimental value of property if the property has no (or a very low) market value. The dog owners in this case are arguing that a dog should not be treated differently from other property and, therefore, they should be able to sue for sentimental value.
It will be interesting to see how the case is decided, although it’s one of those “be careful what you wish for” situations. If the Supreme Court decides you can sue for sentimental value, here are some of the potential consequences:
a) Right now, people can only sue for replacement value, which is not worth suing for, considering all of the legal costs involved. If, in the future, people are able to sue for sentimental value, then you could see an increase in lawsuits. Of course, how much of an increase will depend on how much “sentimental value” is determined to be. An increase in litigation will increase malpractice insurance for vets, which will in turn increase vet costs for all.
b) The same can be said for the price of pet food, pet toys, etc., where liability could attach. Insurance could increase, resulting in an increase in the cost of the food, toys, etc.
c) In this particular case, the dog owners can’t sue the city that ran the shelter (since the city has immunity), so they’re suing the shelter worker personally. If shelter workers and/or volunteers could face substantial litigation risk, then you could see a decline in the number of people willing to volunteer and/or work for relatively low wages. If the “sentimental value” awards get out of hand, you could also see some shelters close due to the overly high cost/risk of litigation.
d) In some States, you can’t sue for the sentimental value of property. For example, in Texas you can, but in New York you can’t. So, a person would only be able to receive sentimental value for their pet in Texas and other States that allow sentimental awards, but not in New York and other States that don’t. What that will mean is that liability for vets, shelter workers, etc. in some States will be higher than in other States…and the potential consequence of that could be lots of vets in New York and similar states, with not so many vets in Texas and other “sentimental value” States.
e) In addition, organizations that provide free or low-cost care (such as low-cost spay/neuter surgeries) may no longer be willing to do so in the “sentimental value” states for fear of the litigation risk.
I’m not saying all of these things will happen, only that they’re possible. No doubt a lot will depend on how high “sentimental value” is set. I'll be interested in seeing the Court's decision.