By Claire Osborn. Staff
Austin American Statesman
ednesday, May 5, 2004, Page 1B
The Texas 3rd Court of Appeals decided Tuesday that an Austin woman is not entitled to money for mental anguish or counseling costs after her dog ran away from a grooming session and later was found dead on a highway.
"There is no support in Texas law for awarding mental anguish damages for the loss of a dog," the court's opinion said.
The justices also decided that Carol Schuster could not recover money for lost wages or loss of companionship because of the death of her miniature schnauzer, Licorice.
The decision reduced Schuster's award by about $35,000.
Licorice slipped away from Petco employees on Jan. 16, 2003 , and ran down U.S. 183. Schuster and employees spent the next few days looking for the dog, whose body was later found on MoPac Boulevard ( Loop 1). The dog was identified by an implanted microchip.
Petco offered to replace Licorice, but Schuster refused and sued the company in March 2003. A month later, a Travis County judge awarded her $47,000, including $160 for counseling and $20,000 for emotional anguish and loss of companionship.
Petco Animal Supplies Inc. appealed the ruling to the 3rd Court of Appeals, which heard the case in November.
The court decided April 30 that Schuster should be paid for a new dog, training, the microchip, lawyer fees and court costs. Those expenses total $11,651, according to Sergei Kachura, Schuster's lawyer.
The court, however, didn't totally discount people's feelings about their pets in its opinion, saying, "There are myriad examples that Texans today view dogs more as companions, friends or even something akin to family . . ."
Schuster could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Christian Von Wupperfeld, a lawyer for Petco, said he was pleased with the court's decision.
"We believe that the law is well-established in this area," he said.
Kachura said he was disappointed with the decision but understood the court's concern about being flooded with these types of lawsuits.
"I have received numerous phone calls from other lawyers inquiring how to bring a similar lawsuit," Kachura said.