CAMDEN, N.J. (CN) – Pet owners whose dogs and cats got sick or died from eating pet food contaminated by Chinese ingredients containing melamine won a $24 million settlement Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman approved the settlement, which will award pet owners for the cost of food, medical and burial expenses for their animals as well as the price of their lost or replacement pet. The settlement also covers checkups for animals that were exposed to the food but did not get sick.
A recall on more than 200 labels of pet foods and treats was initiated in March 2007 when pet owners started complaining that their cats and dogs were getting sick from the food. The food contained Chinese-made wheat gluten or rice protein concentrate with melamine, an industrial chemical used to produce plastics, fertilizers and cleaning agents, and a component in dry erase boards and glues. The chemical compound caused acute kidney or renal failure in the pets. Hundreds of pet owners then filed suit.
The settlement does not include $8 million in reimbursements already paid to pet owners by manufacturers and retail stores. Ontario-based Menu Food Income Fund made most of the toxic pet food and treats, which were then sold by Costco, Wal-mart, Target and numerous grocery and pet stores.
Ten thousand people have filed claims so far, lawyers say, averaging $1,500 in damages. Pet owners can recover damages for vet screening and treatment bills, expenses for illness and/or death, ruined carpets, and lost wages for time taken off work. Owners must provide documentation for their claims, such as vet bills and credit card statements, and claims without documentation will be supported up to $900.
Checks will start getting mailed next year. After the checks are cut, anything left in the settlement fund will go to charities promoting animal health and welfare.
Twenty-five pet owners formally objected to the settlement, saying it does not compensate for the pain and suffering of losing what, in some cases, was considered a best friend.
The deadline to submit claims is Nov. 24.
Canadian pet owners in the case await an approval hearing scheduled for Nov. 4.