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Pet Food Contamination Litigation -- In re Pet Food Products Liability Litigation

Court: United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
Case No.:
MDL No. 1850

Wexler Wallace serves as Co-Lead Counsel in this multidistrict consumer litigation arising from the largest pet food recall in history, involving over 180 brands of products produced or sold by over 40 Defendants.  The action, which was pending before the Honorable Noel L. Hillman in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, settled on Nov. 19, 2008. The settlement created a fund from which consumers could claim up to 100% reimbursement for documented economic losses, as well as up to $900 in undocumented economic damages.

The lawsuits arose after pet food manufacturer Menu Foods announced an initial recall of numerous brands of pet food products in March 2007. The recall quickly expanded to include products manufactured and sold by many other companies, ultimately involving hundreds of pet food brands or recipes. Ultimately, Menu Foods and its affiliated companies recalled approximately 60 million containers of pet food covering close to 100 different brands, including Iams, Eukanuba and Science Diet. The recall covered all “cuts and gravy” (pet food consisting of pieces of meat in gravy) style dog and cat food sold at major nationwide retailers such as Wal-Mart, Safeway and PetSmart.

The products were recalled because dogs and cats were reportedly becoming sick or dying after eating the pet food.  After the recall, it was discovered that certain the pet food products contained contaminated wheat gluten or rice protein concentrate.  The wheat gluten, imported from China for the production of pet food, was tainted with a compound called melamine, which is toxic to animals and can cause kidney failure and death if eaten.  Based on consumer reports received by the FDA, approximately 2,000 cats and 2,000 dogs died after eating the contaminated food.  Data received during the settlement claims process indicate that these numbers were, in fact, much higher.

Pet owners throughout the nation suffered significant damages as a result of the food contamination. Many owners paid thousands of dollars in veterinary expenses for treating and monitoring the health of their pets; others suffered additional costs relating to the death of their pets.

Settlement

After almost a year of intense negotiation, the parties announced a settlement of the litigation for $24 million.  On November 19, 2008, U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman approved what he deemed to be a “remarkable” settlement, however, two appeals were taken from the settlement challenging the plan to allocate $250,000 of the $24 million settlement to claims for food purchases.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit heard oral argument on February 22, 2010. On December 16, 2010, the court issued an opinion upholding the vast majority of the settlement, but remanding the case for the submissions of additional evidence to the District Court on the issues of the $250,000 food purchase allocation. Judge Hillman conducted a hearing on the matter on February 17, 2011. On May 5, 2011, Judge Hillman entered his Order Granting Final Approval with regard to the $250,000 food purchase allocation. With this approval , the Settlement Administrator was finally able to issue the long-waited relief to thousands of claimants.