It's easy to hold forth from the sidelines. You get a nice cushy chair and maybe a refreshing beverage of choice, gaze out over the field, and then make pronouncements. When you're not in the game, it's easy work.
The recent pet food scandal provides an interesting and somewhat frightening snapshot of America's civil justice system. One thing it reveals is how dependent consumers are on manufacturers' safe practices. It's rare to have governmental oversight of consumer goods. It just doesn't happen. And while many sellers and manufacturers act responsibly, it is too common that people get hurt when profits are put before safety.
The other thing that is revealing is how our civil justice system defines injury. While state laws vary, many states treat pets as nothing more than personal property. At the same time, most states do not allow people to recover for their emotional losses that are tied to the death of a beloved pet. I suppose some could argue that there are good reasons for that. But those of us who own pets know better.
As is common with food supply injury, the scope of the problem is not yet apparent. Nor do we know whether and to what extent these problems were caused by lack of oversight, neglect, poor testing, or contamination. But there are real problems here.
Kudos to my colleagues who are willing to take on these cases. My guess is that they will be tough. Maybe they present an opportunity to achieve justice. Let's hope at the very least that those who have made a mess are called to account.
David F. Sugerman
Paul & Sugerman, PC