Monday, April 23, 2007
In-depth article in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer about the mounting litigation concerning contaminated pet food -- Chasing Justice in Pet Food Lawsuits. The article by Emilie Lounsberry notes that at least 50 class actions have been filed, largely in New Jersey where primary defendant Menu Foods has a plant. In addition to lawyers specializing in animal rights, according to the article, "[t]he recall also has drawn lawyers who specialize in class-action and mass-tort cases involving injury to complainants of the two-legged variety, such as the gargantuan litigation over the diet drug fen-phen and the pain reliever Vioxx." Indeed, it sound like the litigation is shaping up much like other mass tort litigation, with claims for medical expenses, medical monitoring, and emotional distress (which would require a significant shift in the law's treatment of animals). Here's an excerpt:
Attorneys for hundreds of pet owners nationwide already have taken aim at some of the companies that have recalled more than 120 varieties of dog and cat food since March 16. By far, the target of choice is Menu Foods Inc., the Canada-based manufacturer of about 100 of the tainted product lines.
As of Friday, at least 50 class-action lawsuits had been filed in federal courts; most are in New Jersey, where Menu has a Pennsauken plant. State courts are likely to be hit, too. For while the Food and Drug Administration has confirmed only 16 deaths, informal tallies by veterinary groups and pet Web sites put fatalities above 3,000, with possibly 10,000 more sickened after eating batches made with melamine-tainted wheat gluten from China.
Only days ago, panic struck again with the recall of rice protein, also from China, shipped to U.S. pet-food makers. The importer said it, too, might contain melamine, used in fertilizers and plastics.
"It's just getting bigger and bigger," said Casey Srogoncik, a Northeast Philadelphia lawyer who is gathering up clients.
The owners' lawsuits seek compensation for costs ranging from burials to ongoing care of survivors. State Rep. Mark Cohen and his wife, Mona, of Northeast Philadelphia, nearly lost their Yorkie bichon, Cookie. They've joined a federal class-action lawsuit that, while typically not stating a specific dollar amount, asks for such relief as a fund for medical monitoring and treatment of lingering health problems.
But the big-ticket question is not who will pay the vet bills, legal experts say. It's whether owners will be entitled to damages for emotional distress.