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Justice Goes to the Dogs (and Cats)

Pet food maker Menu Foods is ready to settle claims that its tainted products killed or injured thousands of household pets. The New Jersey Law Journal reports today that the Canadian manufacturer has reached a settlement in principal with lawyers for plaintiffs in the multi-district litigation, which consolidated some 120 lawsuits from throughout the U.S. Last year, Menu recalled 60 million containers of pet food after it received complaints of pets dying and ill after eating pet food contaminated with tainted flour imported from China.

No terms have been disclosed. A notice posted by Menu Foods on its Web site says that the terms of the settlement will be filed May 1 in federal court in New Jersey, with a hearing scheduled there May 14. The company had earlier estimated its costs associated with the recall to be $55 million (Canadian), and its notice this week said that estimate "remains unchanged." Allowing for other costs, that would suggest that the settlement amount is somewhere south of that.

Complicating these cases from the outset -- as Carolyn Elefant noted here when they were filed -- was the measure of damages for loss of a pet. Carolyn pointed to a post at the Milwaukee Injury Board in which David Lowe discussed the types of damages that may be available to pet owners. Arriving at an answer is complicated, Lowe said, because damages for loss of a pet vary significantly from state to state. But the scope of the recall, he wrote then, could present the appropriate opportunity "to test the old assumptions and make some new law in this area."

This week's settlement might indicate that neither side is ready to test those old assumptions. If that is not to be the legacy of this litigation, perhaps -- as Kia Franklin suggests at TortDeform -- it at least will lead to tougher regulation. After all, when it comes to the well-being of their dogs and cats, pet owners are not likely to roll over and play dead.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on April 3, 2008 at 11:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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