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April 2, 2007

Assessing Damages for Pet Deaths

Ontario-based Menu Foods recalled 60 million containers of its "cuts and gravy" style wet pet foods in early March.  The pet food was sold under a variety of store labels and brands.  The recall was initiated after cats became sick and died during routine company testing. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received over 8,000 complaints and Menu Foods has fielded over 300,000 calls from consumers.  Menu Foods has confirmed the deaths of 15 cats and one dog.  The company has not admitted wrongdoing, but it has offered to pay veterinary bills if a pet's illness or death can be directly linked to the food.  Numerous lawsuits have apparently been filed against Menu Foods, some seeking class action status. The potential damages in cases involving injury to or death of pets is limited, however.  Claimants are typically limited to the cost of replacement of the animal, according to the  AP's Mark Johnson.

There are proposals to expand damages to include not only replacement costs but also damages for emotional distress pet owners suffer upon learning of the death of their pets, as well as damages for lost society.  Margit Livingston, The Calculus of Animal Valuation:  Crafting a Viable Remedy, 82 Neb. L. Rev. 783 (2004), suggests broadening the allowable damages, although subjecting them to a cap if the remedy is legislatively adopted.  On the other hand, Victor E. Schwartz and Emily J. Laird argue in a recent article, Non-Economic Damages in Pet Litigation:  The Serious Need to Preserve a Rational Rule, 33 Pepp. L. Rev. 227 (2006), that the prevailing rule should be maintained.

MKS

April 2, 2007 | Permalink

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