Wilmington couple continues legal fight to determine how much a pet's life is worth | News
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Monday, July 4, 2011

Wilmington couple continues legal fight to determine how much a pet's life is worth

Posted by on Mon, Jul 4, 2011 at 12:06 PM

Herb and Nancy Shera’s beloved Jack Russell Terrier, Laci, would have been 17 today.

Instead the retired Wilmington couple is still grieving and fighting for a change in state law after an N.C. State veterinarian misplaced a feeding tube, placing it in Laci’s lungs instead of her stomach, causing her death.

The Sheras commissioned this portrait of Laci, the Jack Russell Terrier who was irreplaceable to them.
  • Photo courtesy of the Sheras
  • The Sheras commissioned this portrait of Laci, the Jack Russell Terrier who was irreplaceable to them.
The N.C. Industrial Court, hearing the case for a second time after the Sheras appealed the initial ruling, deemed that they are only due reimbursement for the procedure, $2,755,72, plus the cost of a new Jack Russell Terrier as determined through classified ads, $350.

“We all basically felt like their decision would be a ‘no shocker,’ but one can always hope that the right thing will be done,” the Sheras wrote in an e-mail. “We are on to the Appeals Court and pray to win.”

As the INDY has previously reported the Sheras purchased Laci in 1994 at five weeks old for $100. She was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2003, and underwent successful treatment to remove the disease. The Sheras traveled between their Wilmington home and the N.C. State Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Raleigh for follow-up exams. She fell ill in 2007 and was moved to intensive care. Laci was 12 years and 9 months old when the feeding tube mistake killed her. The average Jack Russell Terrier lives to 15.

Under North Carolina law, pets are treated as personal property, and owners are due only the cost of a new pet. Intrinsic value is not considered. The Sheras contend that they are owed $28,243, the amount spent on Laci's care since 2003.

The three-member commission found that N.C. State was negligent, but Commissioner Linda Cheatham wrote in the opinion, “the courts have not recognized intrinsic value as the proper measure for damages for loss of an animal, the Full Commission declines to expand the intrinsic value category of damages by applying it to the instant case.”

In the initial ruling, Deputy Commissioner George T. Glenn II, who heard the case in Durham, awarded only the cost of the final veterinary bill.

Attorney Calley Gerber, who represents the Sheras, plans to file the case with the Court of Appeals later today.

“The Commission talked about expanding intrinsic value to apply to companion animals, but in other cases when you read about intrinsic value you just apply it or you don’t,” she said. “We feel we’ve met the criteria of intrinsic value to apply. It’s not a matter of expanding the law, it’s applying the law that already exists.”

She added that she hopes this is an issue that the N.C. General Assembly will address in the future.

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