Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Is There Any Legal Remedy for the Loss of a Cat?

Sixteen cats and dogs have died and others are sick from eating gourmet pet food containing Aminopterin, a drug used in treating cancer in the United States and for exterminating rats in other countries. (Of course, no one knows how many unreported deaths or sickness there are.) The poisoned food was put on the market between December 3, 2006 and March 6, 2007. The kitten you see to the right--Kaelin-- is approximately fifteen months old. At fourteen months, he was diagnosed with severe kidney disease. The ultra sound showed that Kaelin's kidney looked like a normal kidney of a fourteen year old cat. When asked about Kaelin's prognosis, the veterinarian replied "Think weeks or maybe months, not years." Kaelin's younger brother--Hendrix--pictured below--is eight months old and has also elevated kidney levels. Both kittens were placed on prescription cat food for cats with kidney disease. I can already hear the tough-minded exclaim. "Ok, Bobby, pet lovers are saddened, but what does this have to do with law. Please, Bobby, stay on point."

Here's the point. How do I prove that the kidney disease killing both kittens, from different breeders, was caused by Eukanabu, one of the gourmet foods listed as contaminated and at the time my kittens' daily feast? Without receipts, or the actual products, what counts as evidentiary proof that the disease was caused by the tainted food? Yes, I have diagnoses that both kittens suffer from kidney disease. But how do I tie their kidney disease with the product in question? And even if I can provide an arguable case that there exists a causal chain between the product and the disease, what kind of damages can I claim? Can one claim "pain and suffering" for the loss of a feline friend? Kidney disease is a common killer of cats, but almost always at an advanced age, not as kittens. By contrast, can one reasonably pass off as coincidental that both kittens developed kidney disease during the same period that they ate contaminated food, and yet the food was not the cause of their disease? If not the food, what other conceivable explanation is available? Maybe, I need a good lawyer.


Blogger Greg Touchton said...

You raise the same point in causation that came up in A Civil Action. Even if we know that the contaminant can cause this problem, how do we know it was this one? Having not yet looked at a toxic torts textbook or treatise, I don't know the answer. As far as animal lawyer specifics, you may want to check out these links from the National Center for Animal Law.

3/28/2007 4:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Res ipsa is still very much alive in products liability caselaw so I would think that theory would help with the evidentiary and causation issues. On the issue of damages, most courts still hew to the doctrine that pets are personal property, and thus limit damage awards to the animals' fair market value. Increasingly, though, some state courts have been recognizing the "special" or "intrinsic" value of companion animals and award damages for injuries to them that in some cases far exceed fair market value. These damages are generally to compensate the animal's guardian for loss of companionship and mental anguish. No court has ever awarded damages to the animal for their own pain and suffering. Recent awards for noneconomic damages involving injuries to pets have been made in Oregon and Washington and there are two celebrated New York State cases. Currently, Steven Wise at Harvard is handling a similar case in Vermont. I wish your cats a speedy recovery.
Verne R. Smith

3/30/2007 12:39 PM  
Anonymous Barrett said...

I appreciate that you are focusing on causation here. However, causation is not your main obstacle. Even if causation could be proved, a cat or a dog is personal property, chattel, a *thing* in the eyes of most states' laws. As a result, your cause of action revolves around the destruction (death) of personal property. Your damages would be limited to the economic value of the thing. If it's a rare cat or an everyday American domestic short hair, you're looking market value.

4/24/2007 2:15 PM  

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