Tuesday, August 26, 2008

When $24 million just isn't enough...

There was an article in today's USA Today about the class action settlement in the pet food recall case. Not sure why they ran the story today - even the article points out that the final approval hearing isn't scheduled until October and the claims period doesn't run until November - but it got me to thinking about the settlement again.

Just in case you missed my earlier post on the subject, I found the settlement disappointing when it was first announced. And I still do. Why, you ask? Isn't $24M enough? What sort of extremist nut job am I, anyway?

Well, here's why. Class members' recoveries are circumscribed in two very important regards that (once again) reflect traditional biases against recognizing the value of non-human animals. First, documented expenses such as veterinary bills and burial costs are 100% reimbursable - for those expenses deemed reasonable. Apart from the obvious question of who gets to be the deem-meister... how do you determine what's reasonable?

If someone spent $10,000 in doctor bills trying to save their child, no one would question it. In fact, that person might get into a lot of trouble if they didn't do whatever they possibly could to save a child. (And not that children aren't worth saving - no irate emails please - I have a kid too.) But what about when someone spends the same on a non-human? Some think it's a waste to spend that much on a cat. But others view it as spending money to save a family member - and would do it all over again if the situation arose.

I myself fall squarely into the second camp, and have, in fact, purchased the equivalent of a Dodge Neon in veterinary care. I don't particularly think I'm a nut job and moreover, it's my money. As far as I'm concerned, I never understood what other people see in Neons.

By contrast, undocumented expenses are compensable up to $900. Now that seems fair to me, since presumably a claimant would be unable to prove he or she even spent a penny. Although it does seem a little odd in juxtaposition to the other provision; you can have up to $900 without proving you spent anything, but they may not reimburse you for all you can prove you spent, just because they don't think you spent your money reasonably.

Regardless, the second - and imho - more fundamental flaw in the settlement is that it does not permit recover for any non-economic damage - no pain and suffering, no loss of companionship, nothing. What a shame. Because that's really where one of the forefronts in animal law lies.

$24M may seem like a lot of money, but the only damages that are compensable here are the ones that have traditionally been compensable anyway. Don't get me wrong, I am a big believer in the theory behind the class action. I think individual consumers need to have a way to aggregate damages in order to fight big corporations. But once again - imho - the mechanism has failed the consumer. The defendant corporation wins because it resolves all claims in the most expedient manner possible. The plaintiff attorneys certainly win ($8M! Ca-CHING!). But the consumer? If you loved your dog, you're not thinking about $1,000 emergency room visit or the $150 cremation cost. You're thinking about not having anyone to go on walks with anymore. The fact that no one even has to acknowledge that this is your real loss is like being victimized twice.

This case is one of the great, missed opportunities in the animal law field. I hope that no tragedy of this magnitude strikes again. But if it does, I hope more fervently that animal law attorneys can figure out a way to band together and generate enough funding to be able to take a seat at the class action table and really roll the dice.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dog shooting spurs pet bill

The new law would aim at cleaning up commerical breeding kennels.

By RICHARD FELLINGER Harrisburg bureau
York Sunday News

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

VU professor to be on Animal Planet

Valparaiso University law professor Rebecca Huss will be on TV Sunday, discussing her role in the Michael Vick dogfighting case on Animal Planet's new program "Animal Witness."

The first episode "Animal Witness: The Michael Vick Case," airing at 9 p.m., will focus on the investigation of former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Vick and his Bad Newz Kennels.

For more, click here. Way to go, Rebecca!

Pets in limbo

Mass. has no legal provisions for care once owner dies


Diane Sullivan is devoted to her dogs, Winnie and Whitey, and she’s counting on her brother to give them a home if anything should happen to her and her boyfriend...

Ms. Sullivan is a professor of animal law at the Massachusetts School of Law. She knows that, as a Massachusetts resident, she is limited in what she can do to protect Winnie and Whitey if she should become incapacitated or die.

Read the rest of the article here...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

AGRICULTURE: Feds, trade group sued on farm animal initiative

By BRADLEY J. FIKES - Staff Writer
North County Times
August 13, 2008

The sponsors of a farm animal rights initiative for the November ballot are suing the federal government and a trade group for allegedly devoting millions of dollars to defeat the measure.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Francisco against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Egg Board claims the department improperly allowed the Egg Board to set aside $3 million for opposing Proposition 2.

The plaintiff, Californians for Humane Farms, says the board is banned from using government money for political campaigns.

Read more here...

Friday, August 08, 2008

Wanna abuse an animal and videotape it? It's ok with the 3rd Circuit.

A couple of weeks back the 3rd Circuit issued (imho) a very disappointing ruling in U.S. v. Stevens. In a 10-3 decision, it vacated the conviction of Robert Stevens, the first person tried under a 1999 law banning depictions of animal cruelty. Finding that the ban was not a sufficiently compelling government interest, it held that the law violates the First Amendment.

Read an analysis - courtesy of the First Amendment Center - with a link to the decision, here...

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Mutts decoded

DNA tests sort out canine family history

By Billy Baker
Boston Globe Correspondent / August 2, 2008

For mutt owners, the guessing game has come to an end. Science has stepped in with the answer to the elusive question "What kind of dog is that?"

New DNA tests, which range in cost from $55 to $200, promise to identify the breeds present in a dog's genetic soup.

Billed as a way to satisfy curiosity and to help veterinarians watch out for breed-specific ailments, the tests are also providing a dose of humility for animal specialists who now realize how bad they have been at guessing a dog's breed mix.

Read the rest of the Boston Globe article here...

Friday, August 01, 2008

Landmark Farm Animal Welfare Decision in New Jersey!

Congratulations to Kathy Meyer, Amy Trakinski and Len Egert for a terrific decision handed down by the New Jersey Supreme Court Thursday!

In a 78-page decision, the court ruled, among other things, that the N.J. Ag Dept's definition of "routine husbandry practices" was arbitrary and capricious. It banned tail docking altogether and held that other practices, such as de-beaking or castration, could only be performed if the agency better defined other terms, such as "minimize pain".

Read the landmark decision here...