United States District Judge Noel Hillman, sitting in Camden, N.J., granted preliminary settlement approval today in the tainted pet food cases. Menu Foods, Inc., based in Canada, was the main defendant. The defendants have agreed to pay aggrieved pet owners in the United States and Canada all of their economic or out of pocket expenses in connection with the illness or death of their dogs and cats.
In March, 2007, Menu Foods recalled all of it’s pet food when it was found to be contaminated. There have been estimates by various veterinarian groups that about 1,500 pets died from the bad food and thousands more were made sick.
The settlement calls for a total of $24 million to be paid, in addition to the $8 million already paid to pet owners. There will be notices of the class action settlement in major newspapers and periodicals. In addition, written notices will be provided to pet owners who have already filed claims and whose names are known to the Court and counsel. The notices will spell out exactly what the owners have to do to make a claims.
Each owner will be paid for actual out of pocket expenses for items such as vet and hospital bills, burial and cremation bills, replacement costs, lost earnings in connection with the pets sickness or death, transportation costs, damage to carpets and furniture, and any other reasonable related economic loss. Proof in the form of credit card bills or canceled checks will be needed, however, there will up to $900 available if proof of loss cannot be found. In addition, there will be a limited fund available for check ups for heathly pets and replacement pet food. Those limits are $400,000 and $250,000 respectively.
The notices are to be mailed or published by June 15, 2008. There will be a toll free number and a website to answer questions that the pet food owners may have. Owners will have until August 15, 2008 to opt out of the class and proceed individually. According to Menu Foods attorney Mary Gately, “A component not included in this settlement is pain and suffering damages”.Many pet owners regard their pets as members of their families, however, the law of most states does not allow this type of recovery.
There will be a hearing before Judge Hillman on October 14, 2008 at which time he will decide whether or not to give final approval to the settlement. The settlment affects over 100 separate lawsuits, with 250 named plaintiffs, that have been filed in the United States and Canada. All of the cases have been consolidated in what is known as Multi-District Litigation (MDL) and are all pending in Camden, NJ before Judge Hillman. A portion of the $24 million will be for attorney fees in an amount to be determined by the judge. A CPA firm in Philadelphia has been selected to be the administrator for the claims.