Pet food court settlement hung up by appeals

23,000 pet owners filed claims to date

Published: December 18, 2008
By Edie Lau

A $24-million payout to settle class-action suits stemming from melamine poisoning in pet food last year is hung up by two court appeals, a lawyer for plaintiffs said Wednesday.

“There were several objections to the settlement, and all those objections were denied by the trial court judge,” said Russell Paul, lead co-counsel for the class. “However, two of the objectors have appealed. Those appeals have to be considered.”

Meanwhile, claims administrators have received more than 23,000 claims and counting, said Paul, who works in the firm Berger & Montague PC in Philadelphia.

The settlement covers claims by pet owners and consumers in the United States and Canada. U.S. plaintiffs had to submit their claims by Nov. 24, but Canadian claimants have until Jan. 26 to apply for reimbursement of their economic damages. The settlement was approved in Canadian court in late November, more than six weeks following U.S. approval.

Paul said he does not know the total value of claims submitted but said each will be evaluated for reasonableness. “The claim forms and attached documentary evidence will be vetted carefully,” he said. “There are clearly fraudulent claims sometimes.”

The accounting and consulting firm Heffler, Radetich & Saitta LLP in Philadelphia is handling claims administration.

Eligible expenses for reimbursement include the cost of veterinary treatment, death-related expenses, the cost of the dead pet or its fair market value (whichever is higher), and the cost of a new pet, according to information on the website

Paul said the appeals were filed by plaintiffs who have legal objections to the settlement as approved. He could not estimate when the appeals will be decided, nor how long it will take claims administrators to review all the applications.

He said claimants are unlikely to receive any communications about their claims until the awards are decided.

The settlement addresses more than 100 class action lawsuits filed after the industrial chemical melamine turned up in wet pet food last year. Investigators found that suppliers in China of wheat gluten, a vegetable protein, had added nitrogen-rich melamine to falsely inflate the gluten’s apparent protein content.

The melamine, along with the chemical byproduct cyanuric acid, together formed crystals in the kidneys of cats and dogs that ate the tainted food, leading in some cases to renal failure and death. Some 150 brands of pet food were affected. The long list of defendants include Menu Foods, Nestle Purina PetCare Co., Walmart, PETCO, PetSmart, Target, Iams, Del Monte, Mars, Inc., Nutro Products, Inc. and Costco.

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