"The other side is really trying to confuse the argument by claiming that we're seeking mental anguish damages for a dog, and we're not. And their argument is, well, under Texas law a person cannot recover mental anguish damages when that person's sibling or parent or grandchild is killed. So why should a pet owner be able to recover sentimental value when a dog is killed? And that is a disingenuous argument," says Turner, a partner in the Bedford office of Bailey & Galyen.
The Medlen case, Turner says, is simply about the sentimental value of property not people.
"First of all, you don't own your sibling or your grandparent. And secondly, we're not seeking mental anguish damages. That's a damage that's recoverable in tort law for various tort cases. We're not talking about mental anguish. We're talking about the value of property," he says.
According to an amicus brief filed by numerous pet-industry groups, including the American Kennel Club and the American Veterinary Medical Association, affirming Medlen and allowing dog owners to recover for "emotion-based" damages would contribute to rising veterinary bills and make it more difficult for pets to receive medical care.
"If you care about the welfare and health of animals, the most important thing is for them to have access to quality and affordable care. And if we inject emotion-based damages into the pet-care community the way it's been done in the human health-care system, the losers will be the pets themselves, who will suffer by not getting needed care or potentially being euthanized when their owners can no longer afford the cost of treatment," says Phil Goldberg, a partner in the Washington D.C. office of Shook Hardy & Bacon, who filed the brief on behalf of pet-industry groups.
"Clearly, the law in Texas has been moving toward having a more restrained system. The change being sought here is being sought by the plaintiffs. They are looking to change liability law that hasn't existed anywhere in the country and has never existed in Texas," Goldberg says.
An amicus brief filed by the Texas Municipal League, Texas City Attorneys Association and the city of Arlington includesa graphic picture of an Arlington boy's mangled arm after he was bitten by a pit bull and treated at a hospital.
"It came pretty close to biting the child's arm off,"says Robert Fugate, an assistant Arlington city attorney who filed the brief on behalf of the municipal groups. He says including photo was necessary to make a point: "The Fort Worth Court of Appeals opinion focused very heavily on the pets. Dogs are truly man and woman's best friend. But it didn't seem to consider other dogs and what our police officers and our animal services people have to deal with."
Fugate says his primary problem with Medlen is allowing plaintiffs to recover "emotional damages" from municipal defendants.
"When you allow for emotional damages, you're creating an almost unlimited standard that varies from juror to juror and jury to jury," he says.