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David Lowe
David Lowe
Attorney • (414) 727-2200

Pet Food Recall Raises Issue Of Remedies For Pet Owners' Loss Of Companionship

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The recall of contaminated pet food manufactured by Menu Foods, Inc. of Streetsville, Ontario, Canada, will awaken the public to the fact that state laws give rather meager court remedies to owners who lose a pet due to negligence.

The recall, announced March 17, 2007, involved 60 million containers of pet food of the “Cuts and Gravy” style. The food was sold in stores between December 3 and March 6. Menu Foods says an unknown number of animals have suffered kidney failure and at least ten died after eating the affected pet food. There are 51 brands of dog food and 40 brands of cat food involved in the recall.

And the latest news is that as many as one in six animals died in tests of suspect dog and cat food by the manufacturer last month after complaints the products were poisoning pets around the country.

So what remedies are available to owners who have lost a pet due to this unfortunate episode? The answer is complicated by the question of which jurisdiction’s law will be chosen to determine the owners’ remedy. The manufacturer is based in Ontario, Canada, the batch of food originated from its plant in New Jersey, and the victims are dispersed around the country.

In Wisconsin, the Supreme Court held in a 2001 case (Rabideau v. City of Racine 243 Wis.2d 486, 627 N.W.2d 795) that public policy precluded a pet owner’s claim for emotional damages based upon the tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress in connection with a negligent destruction of a companion dog. Absent an intent to inflict emotional harm on the owner, there is no remedy for the owner’s emotional injury. Unfortunately, the sole remedy is for “property damage”, probably measured by the market value of a new animal of the same breed.

Apparently, Tennessee has passed a statute allowing recovery of up to $4,000 for loss of companionship of a pet due to negligence.

There have not been any situations like this however, and with a massive recall and pets dying across the country.
This may be the appropriate time to test the old assumptions and make some new law in this area.