New Jersey Judge Approves $24M Settlement for Tainted Pet Food

June 2, 2008

A New Jersey judge granted initial approval Friday to a settlement in which companies that manufactured or sold contaminated pet food would compensate pet owners for all costs related to the death or illness of their dogs and cats.

Under the deal, granted initial approval by U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman, pet owners in the United States and Canada would be notified of the settlement by June 16 and would have until early December to submit claims. A final hearing on the $24 million settlement is scheduled for Oct. 14.

The settlement doesn’t pay pet owners for pain and suffering from injuries to their pets.

Menu Foods Income Fund, which makes dog and cat food under about 90 brand names from its base in Streetsville, Ontario, and other companies that make or sell pet food announced April 1 that they were settling lawsuits with pet owners.

Last year, some of their products were discovered to contain wheat gluten imported from China that was contaminated with melamine, a chemical used to make plastics. The discovery led to what’s believed to be the largest pet food recall ever.

Sherrie R. Savett, a lead lawyer for plaintiffs, said more than 1,500 animals in the U.S. died after eating the food last year.

The settlement allows pet owners to apply for expenses associated with deaths and illnesses, including the costs of veterinarians, time missed from work to care for sick animals, replacement pets, burial expenses and even property damaged because animals got sick.

Pet owners can request up to $900 for undocumented claims in case they didn’t save all their receipts.

Owners can also be reimbursed if they had their dogs screened for contaminated food — even if they turned out to be healthy.

Plaintiffs lawyers are seeking $6 million of the settlement in fees.

Money left over after all claims are paid is to go to animal-welfare charities.

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