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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Deadly pet food mystery puts heat on industry

Elizabeth Weise and Julie Schmit of USA TODAY wrote today that “the company that recalled 60 million containers of dog and cat food said Wednesday that its testing is continuing, but the source of the contamination that has killed at least 16 animals and sickened possibly hundreds more is still a mystery.  The nationwide recall by Menu Foods of Canada, which involved food packaged under 95 brands, including the popular Iams and Eukanuba, sparked a panic among pet owners. They have flooded veterinarians’ offices and the Food and Drug Administration with phone calls and launched at least one lawsuit.”

They asked me about whether pet owners can sue for the loss of the family pet.  I said”

A: They can, but it’s a difficult legal case to make.

“A few states, Washington in particular, do allow emotional distress damages to a pet owner if the pet was ‘maliciously harmed.’ Most states still view pets as property,” so potential damages are limited, says Bill Marler of Marler Clark, a Seattle law firm. He says pet owners rarely can win the type of pain-and-suffering damages possible in cases involving human victims.

So, in essence, a pet owner in most states can recover for medical expenses spent on the pet, the value of the pet in the marketplace and the cost of any returned food.  However, in at least eight states a pet owner can recover “emotional distress damages” for the loss or injury to the pet, but only if the injury was maliciously or intentionally caused.  We decided not to take these cases and instead focus on representing people injured by tainted food.