|With a continuing rise in the number of pets harmed or killed by tainted pet food, the next inevitable phase of the calamity is unfolding: Lawsuits. At least six class action suits already have been filed against Menu Foods, the Canadian firm that has recalled millions of servings of pet food that it manufactures for 42 brands of cat food and 53 brands of dog food sold nationwide.
In Oregon alone, at least 28 animals have died after eating the food - including five dogs in Springfield and one in Pleasant Hill, and two cats each in Eugene and Springfield and one in Pleasant Hill. Ill animals also have been listed in Veneta and Cottage Grove, according to the latest numbers from the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association.
"This is really tragic. It sounds like it is going to be really huge," said Michele Smith, an attorney with the Eugene firm of Johnson Clifton Larson & Schaller.
People with potential legal claims react in different ways, she said. Some wait until most of the facts are known. Others want to rush right to a lawyer, Smith said.
advertisement Pet owners such as Allan Hall of Eugene are not waiting. Hall said he has been angry since his 15-year-old dachshund, Tabbitha, died March 13, within days of eating food that was subject to the recall.
"This was my best friend for 15 years. I was with her since she was six weeks old," Hall said Thursday.
Hall compiled his veterinary records, got help from a retailer to get a copy of his receipt for the food and contacted the Food and Drug Administration to register his case. Then he got on the Internet to contact a law firm in Wisconsin that has filed a class action lawsuit.
"I am interested in joining a class action lawsuit," Hall said. "The only thing that will make me feel better is that this company will not make pet food again. That's what I want."
Smith said pet owners should save unused food portions, labels from containers, store receipts, veterinary reports and bills, along with photographs of their pet or other evidence that might bolster their legal claims.
The Menu Foods litigation is only beginning, she said. Company and government officials have not yet confirmed the source of the problem, much less who may be responsible and what can be done about it. The company has said publicly that it will cover the veterinary bills of affected animals.
Nevertheless, hundreds of pet owners already have contacted the Seattle law firm of Myers and Company, one of the firms seeking class action status for a lawsuit against Menu Foods, said Tom Baisch, an associate attorney with the firm.
Affected pet owners need not hurry to sue, he says. The first hurdle will be convincing a judge that the cases are enough in common to be handled as a class. If so, the cases will be consolidated, with a panel of attorneys working to resolve it for all affected pet owners.
If a judge accepts the suit as a class action, affected pet owners are presumed to be a part of the class, he said. However, they need to file their information with the Food and Drug Administration or contact lawyers who have filed the lawsuits so they can receive information about the case, he said.
Pet owners can contact the FDA consumer complaint coordinator at (425) 483-4949 to report cases of illness or death due to the recalled food. Owners must report the specific product name, lot numbers of the product, and provide a veterinarian's report and diagnosis.
Owners need not pay legal fees to be part of the case. When the case settles, they can choose whether to accept the deal or withdraw and pursue their own lawsuit, Baisch said.
"It could take months. It could take years," Baisch said.
The list of recalled food: www.menufoods.com/recall