ASSEMBLY, No. 4217

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

212th LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED MAY 14, 2007

 


 

Sponsored by:

Assemblyman NEIL M. COHEN

District 20 (Union)

Assemblyman DOUGLAS H. FISHER

District 3 (Salem, Cumberland and Gloucester)

 

Co-Sponsored by:

Assemblyman Conners

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Authorizes civil action for certain damages when a pet animal becomes ill, is injured, or dies from consuming or coming into contact with adulterated pet food.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As introduced.

  


An Act concerning pet food and supplementing Title 4 of the Revised Statutes.

 

     Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

     1.    a.  The owner, and any immediate family member thereof, of a domestic companion animal, which animal becomes ill, is injured, or dies from ingesting or coming into contact with adulterated pet food, may bring a cause of action in a court of competent jurisdiction for civil damages against the manufacturer, producer, and distributor of the adulterated pet food, or any other person who caused or contributed to causing the adulteration of the pet food or who otherwise had a duty to act to prevent the illness of, injury to, or death of the animal from the adulterated pet food.

     Damages shall be reasonable compensation, in current dollars, for, and may include but need not be limited to, the following:

     (1)   monetary value of the animal;

     (2)   replacement value of the animal;

     (3)   breeding potential of the animal;

     (4)   veterinary expenses incurred in treating the animal;

     (5)   burial or cremation expenses;

     (6)   reimbursement of animal training expenses;

     (7)   any unique or special value of the animal, such as when the injured or dead animal is a guide or service animal or a show animal;

     (8)   lost wages incurred due to the loss or disability of the animal;

     (9)   loss of companionship; and

     (10) emotional distress suffered by the owner or any immediate family member thereof, whether deemed to have been inflicted intentionally or negligently.

     b.    To recover damages under subsection a. of this section, it shall not be necessary for the plaintiff to have been physically present when the animal becomes or is ill or injured or dies from ingesting or coming into contact with the adulterated pet food.

     c.     No cause of action may be brought pursuant to this section against the retail seller of the adulterated pet food unless the retail seller (1) did not properly respond to a recall notice received by the retail seller by immediately removing the adulterated pet food from store shelves and taking all other appropriate action requested in the notice, (2) otherwise knew, or reasonably should have known, that the pet food was adulterated, or (3) caused or contributed to causing the adulteration of the pet food.

     d.    Any action brought pursuant to this section shall be commenced within two years next after the cause of any such action shall have accrued.


     e.     A local health agency may seize and destroy any adulterated pet food held by a retail seller in order to prevent it from being sold or offered for sale.

     f.     Nothing in this section shall preclude or preempt the owner, or any immediate family member thereof, of a domestic companion animal, which animal becomes ill, is injured, or dies from ingesting or coming into contact with adulterated pet food, from seeking (1) any other remedies or relief, including but not limited to injunctive relief and equitable relief, authorized or permitted by any other law or the common law, or (2) punitive damages when appropriate.

     g.     To recover damages or to obtain any other remedies or relief pursuant to this section, it shall not be necessary to demonstrate that a violation of the “New Jersey Commercial Feed Law of 1970,” P.L.1970, c.338 (C.4:4-20.1 et seq.) or any other applicable law, or any rule or regulation adopted pursuant thereto, has occurred.

     h.     For the purposes of this section:

     “Adulterated” or “adulteration” means contaminated, poisoned, impure, spoiled, compromised, debased, or defective.

     “Domestic companion animal” means any animal commonly referred to as a pet or one that has been bought, bred, raised or otherwise acquired, in accordance with local ordinances and State and federal law, for the primary purpose of providing companionship to the owner, rather than for business or agricultural purposes.  “Domestic companion animal” shall also mean a guide or service animal.

     “Immediate family member” means any person (1) who is related by blood, marriage, law, or adoption to the owner of the domestic companion animal, and (2) whose legal residence was the same as the owner’s residence at any time during which the domestic companion animal lived at the owner’s residence.

     “Ill” or “illness” means a condition, disease, infection, infestation, malady, or sickness experienced or suffered by a domestic companion animal.

     “Pet food” means any item intended for a domestic companion animal to be ingested as food or drink, including items commonly referred to as treats, snacks, or biscuits, or to be chewed or gnawed, such as a rawhide bone.

 

     2.    This act shall take effect immediately.

 

 

STATEMENT

 

     This bill would allow the owner, and any immediate family member thereof, whose pet becomes ill, is injured, or dies from ingesting or coming into contact with adulterated pet food, to sue for civil damages against the manufacturer, producer, and distributor of the adulterated pet food, or any other person who caused or contributed to causing the adulteration of the pet food or who otherwise had a duty to act to prevent the illness of, injury to, or death of the animal from the adulterated pet food.

     Allowable damages would be reasonable compensation, in current dollars, for, and may include but need not be limited to, the following:

     (1)   monetary value of the animal;

     (2)   replacement value of the animal;

     (3)   breeding potential of the animal;

     (4)   veterinary expenses incurred in treating the animal;

     (5)   burial or cremation expenses;

     (6)   reimbursement of animal training expenses;

     (7)   any unique or special value of the animal, such as when the injured or dead animal is a guide or service animal or a show animal;

     (8)   lost wages incurred due to the loss or disability of the animal;

     (9)   loss of companionship; and

     (10) emotional distress suffered by the owner or any immediate family member thereof, whether deemed to have been inflicted intentionally or negligently.

     Suit under this bill could not be brought against the retail seller of the adulterated pet food unless the retail seller (1) did not properly respond to a recall notice received by the retail seller by immediately removing the adulterated pet food from store shelves and taking all other appropriate action requested in the notice, (2) otherwise knew, or reasonably should have known, that the pet food was adulterated, or (3) caused or contributed to causing the adulteration of the pet food.  The bill also authorizes a local health agency to seize and destroy any adulterated pet food held by a retail seller in order to prevent it from being sold or offered for sale.

     The bill provides for a two-year statute of limitations on the filing of a lawsuit.

     Finally, the bill would not preclude a pet owner from seeking any other remedies or relief, including but not limited to injunctive relief and equitable relief, authorized or permitted by any other law or the common law, or punitive damages when appropriate.

     Recent reports about the illness and death of numerous cats and dogs around the country apparently caused by adulterated pet food have prompted the need for this legislation.  Establishment of a statutory right of legal action to recover economic and noneconomic damages in the case of illness, injury, or death of a pet animal due to adulterated pet food would overcome the antiquated common law notion that a pet animal is chattel which has only an economic replacement value to the owner.  Pets (including guide or service animals as well) are much, much more than chattel to their owners or caretakers, almost always becoming trusted companions and unique and treasured members of the family.  The unexpected sickness or loss of a pet is often emotionally devastating, whether it is due to an accident or a negligent, reckless, or intentional act.