ALBANY, N.Y. - Pet owners are not likely to get much compensation if they individually sue pet food-maker Menu Foods over the death of a dog or cat, although they might fare better if they joined forces in a class-action suit, legal experts say.
Most state laws consider animals - even beloved pets - to be only personal property. That means that even for the loss of a faithful family companion, a successful civil lawsuit would not likely produce much reward, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.
"With animals, all you get is the value of the property," he said. "There are no emotional damages."
In early March, Menu Foods recalled 60 million containers of its "cuts and gravy" style wet pet foods, sold under nearly 100 store labels and major brands across North America. It did so after cats fell sick and died during routine company taste tests.
It is not clear how many pets may have been poisoned by the apparently contaminated food, although anecdotal reports suggest hundreds if not thousands have died. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received more than 8,000 complaints while the company has fielded 300,000 calls from consumers. The company has only confirmed the deaths of 15 cats and one dog. There is no central database tracking pet deaths in the United States.
Nestle Purina PetCare Co. said Saturday it was recalling all sizes and varieties of its Alpo Prime Cuts in Gravy wet dog food with specific date codes. Purina said a limited amount of the food contained a contaminated wheat gluten from China.
Also on Saturday, Del Monte Pet Products announced it was voluntarily recalling some of its dog and cat treats with certain date codes. The affected brands are Jerky Treats Beef Flavor Dog Snacks, Gravy Train Beef Sticks Dog Snacks and Pounce Meaty Morsels Moist Chicken Flavor Cat Treats. The company said two other products sold under private labels also are affected: Ol' Roy Beef Flavor Jerky Strips Dog Treats and Ol' Roy Beef Flavor Snack Stick Dog Treats.
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