The Texas Supreme Court recently ruled on an unusual issue. The court recently held that, although pets are important to people in an emotional or sentimental way, non-economic damages for their loss cannot be awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit.
In the case, a family had sued for the loss of their pet when it had escaped and was mistakenly euthanized by animal control officers. The court held that owners could not recover non-economic damages for the loss of a pet, because, in the eyes of the law, pets are property.
Wrongful death in Texas
Although non-economic damages for the loss of a loved four-legged pet cannot be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit, the same cannot be said for the loss of a two-legged loved one. Wrongful death is a civil action that is intended to compensate close family members for the loss of a loved one whose death was caused by someone else's negligence, neglect or carelessness. Wrongful death lawsuits most commonly arise as a result of medical malpractice, drunk driving accidents or dangerous products.
The right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas is controlled by the Texas Wrongful Death Act. Under the act, there are three requirements that must be met before a lawsuit may be brought:
- The decedent's death was caused by neglect, unskillfulness, carelessness or default on the part of the defendant (i.e. the person, government entity or company being sued).
- The person bringing the lawsuit is the spouse, parent or child of the decedent (grandchildren and siblings are not qualified to bring a lawsuit).
- If the decedent had survived the incident causing his or her death, he or she would have been able to sue the defendant for damages.
Persons who are eligible to bring a wrongful death lawsuit may recover economic damages for loss of the decedent's income, as well as the medical and funeral expenses of the decedent. In addition, non-damages for loss of income, loss of society and loss of companionship (damages intended to compensate for the loss of the decedent's love and emotional support) may also be recovered.
If the defendant's conduct was particularly malicious, willful, reckless or intentional the court may award punitive damages in addition to the other types of damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer, with the ultimate goal of discouraging future instances of misconduct.
If you have lost a loved one because of someone's carelessness, you may be entitled to recover compensation. As such lawsuits are complicated, it is important to consult with an attorney experienced in wrongful death. An attorney can evaluate your claim and ensure that the responsible party is held accountable for their actions.