The headline about a court deciding the worth of a pet grabbed my attention.
The story was posted on Facebook in April — and given the business I’m in, I just had to read it.
What I learned is that married attorneys Elizabeth and Robert Monyak of Georgia were suing an Atlanta-area dog boarding facility where they left their 8-year-old mixed-breed dachshund, Lola, according to court documents. The dog later died.
"A case that may reflect a pet owner's worst nightmare has made its way to the Texas Supreme Court, which must decide if a family can place sentimental value on a pet that was accidentally euthanized. Approximately three years ago, Jeremy and Kathryn Medlen's family dog, Avery, escaped from their yard during a thunderstorm. Days later, the Medlens were happy to hear Fort Worth Animal Control had found their beloved pet and they could come by to pick him up. "When Jeremy and his two small children went to go pick up Avery, they were told they accidentally killed him the day before," said Medlen's attorney, Randy Turner."* Is your dog or cat more than property? If your pet were killed, how much could you sue for- the market value, or the sentimental? The Texas Supreme Court is currently deciding how much a beloved pet could be worth- what does that mean for insurance? Cenk Uygur, Ana Kasparian, and Ben Manckiewicz break it down.
Georgia Supreme Court records state the following: Lola was boarded with Callie, the same family’s 13-year-old, mixed-breed Lab, for 10 days. But three days after being picked up from the boarding business, a veterinarian diagnosed Lola with acute kidney failure resulting in nine months of veterinary care, including dialysis. Lola died after the Monyaks spent $67,000 trying to save her.
The couple alleged the boarding business had given the older and bigger dog’s anti-inflammatory drug for arthritis to Lola, a much smaller dog, according to court documents.
The Georgia high court hasn’t ruled on the culpability of the boarding kennel, said Matthew Liebmann, chief legal counsel of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, because the justices first considered two questions.
• Could the Monyaks sue for reimbursement of the $67,000?
• Could the Monyaks sue for what they felt the dog’s intrinsic value as a family member? “Our position is a dog is not fungible,” Elizabeth Monyak told the Washington Post. “We didn’t want another 8-year-old dachshund. We wanted Lola.”
The defense fund filed an amicus brief stating that pet owners whose animals die due to the negligence of others should be compensated based on the value that the owner — not the market — places on the animal.
I completely understand their position — in fact, I truly love Elizabeth Monyak’s quote — and, so, I, along with many other animal lovers, was eager to see how the Georgia high court ruled. It delivered a mixed bag.
Liebman said the Monyaks were told in June they could return to a lower court to pursue reimbursement of the $67,000 in medical bills and Lola’s fair market value. The court declined to let the family sue for any damages based on their assessment of Lola’s intrinsic value, he said.
“The case opens the door to permitting recovery of reasonable veterinary expenses, which is a notable improvement from the past by going beyond market value,” Liebman said. “Sadly, the court prohibited recovery for the dog’s sentimental value and stated, in essence, the value of an animal is still no more than that animal’s fair market value.”
The silver lining for the Monyak case is that the court decided the first question the way animal lovers hoped they would, acknowledging that $67,000 to save the life of a dog whose market value is virtually nil demonstrates that a pet has a value much greater than what amounts in effect to her sale price.
The court wrote: “The unique human-animal bond, while cherished, is beyond legal measure.”
“The good news is that the legal system is catching up with how most of us view our companion animals, which is not merely as property,” Liebman said. “They are giving them a different status as sentient beings with thoughts and feelings about whom we care deeply as beloved members of our households.”