Justice Don Willett asked where a stuffed dog might fall under this new standard.
He later painted a difference scenario: a twin sister walking a dog down the street when both are run over by a distracted driver barreling around the curve while texting. Under the law, damages for mental anguish can be collected only for the death of a parent, spouse or child. So Wouldn't it be strange, Willett asked, for the surviving sister to collect money for the dog, but not her twin?
"It might seem strange. But not really," Turner responded. "Let's change the hypothetical and say that instead of walking her dog, she's carrying a family heirloom. And there's a collision, the sister is killed, and also the cherished family heirloom is destroyed. Well, under existing Texas law handed down by this court, there is no dispute she couldn't recover a wrongful death case for (her) sister, but she could for the sentimental value of the heirloom. That would be a strange result, but that's the law."
John Cayce, an attorney for the shelter worker named in the lawsuit, argued that a victory for the Medlens would result in skyrocketing insurance premiums for veterinarians terrified of being sued.
He also said that sentient beings aren't like any other irreplaceable family memorabilia.
"Humans don't bond to heirlooms," Cayce said. "They bond to pets."
The Medlen family did not attend the hearing. Their dog was mistakenly euthanized in 2009 despite the shelter placing a hold tag on Avery after the family came to claim her at the shelter, but was unable to immediately pay an $80 fee to get her back. When the family returned with the cash, they learned Avery had been put down.