Drug industry lobbies against raising pet worth


Sacramento, Calif.-California veterinary leaders fault some drug manufacturing insiders for derailing a bill to create a special property classification for pets allowing up to $25,000 in non-economic rewards.

Sacramento, Calif.-California veterinary leaders fault some drug manufacturing insiders for derailing a bill to create a special property classification for pets allowing up to $25,000 in non-economic rewards.

At presstime, the measure was being pulled from the state Legislature.

The bill, backed by California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA)'s Non-Economic Task Force, but voted down by the group's Board of Governors, legitimized the emotional value of pets and, in turn, would have allowed state courts to recognize lawsuits seeking damages for emotional distress and loss of consortium. Courts traditionally view pets as property and deny claims seeking more than an animal's fair market value. While CVMA officials deem the now-defunct bill as a proactive step toward tempering a national movement to increase pet worth, some drug manufacturers fear raising pet value would increase product liability claims.

Dr. Bill Grant

"It's happened on the human side," says Pfizer Animal Health spokesman Bob Fauteux. "Not every lawsuit that involves a doctor involves medicine, but certainly encouraging additional litigation is going to invite increased litigation, especially for veterinarians and companies like ours.

"CVMA needs to recognize that some of their traditional allies, like ourselves, would oppose this. We should be working together to oppose unfriendly trends and not try to facilitate them."

Bad blood

Working together is not how CVMA officials describe their relationship with Pfizer and the Animal Health Institute (AHI) and claim the groups used backdoor lobbying tactics to thwart the proposed measure.

"They didn't contact us; they didn't talk to the people who have researched this for months," says Dr. Bill Grant, head of the CVMA task force of lawyers and veterinarians charged with creating the bill. "They just started sending out letters and creating a fear factor."

Trickle down effect

Pfizer also is looking out for the profession, Fauteux says, as increased legal expenses for pharmaceutical manufacturers would trickle down to increased drug prices and lost research dollars. Consumers would bear the brunt of those costs, he adds, and be less apt to afford veterinary services.

"The costs of litigation are enormous, amplified by plaintiffs assuming they can reach deep into insurance and pharmaceutical pockets," Fauteux says. "They're not going to go after someone with $25 in his bank account. Litigation hasn't been a major concern of this in the veterinary profession, so why invite it?"

AHI members agree, says Ron Phillips, vice president for public affairs.

"Certainly, we didn't intend to ruffle any feathers with CVMA," he says. "But most of our members see it the way Pfizer does. Any company is concerned about the potential expansion of tort liability and costs associated with it."

Lost opportunity

Despite drug industry concerns, change is looming, and determining whether it comes via veterinarians, activists or legal precedence now may be lost to California veterinarians, says CVMA Executive Director Dick Schumacher, DVM. With the January deadline to submit legislation passed, CVMA must wait until next year before considering a new bill. The Board of Governors has charged the task force with further research on the issue.

"The window of opportunity for 2004 that we felt was there is now gone," Schumacher says. "I think the strong lobbying measure by Pfizer and AHI was a huge mistake."

In the works

At presstime, the American Veterinary Medical Law Association (AVMLA) reported at least five cases across the country seeking non-economic damages for injury for the loss of pets. A small claims court in California granted $5,000 in emotional distress damages for the loss of a cat that died at a veterinary hospital. The owner was quoted in a local newspaper as saying: "I went to court just to make him suffer more. I mean, I wasn't expecting a dime," AVMLA reports.

It's this type of action CVMA seeks to restrain, Grant says. "I hope that its not one of those things where I look back and tell everybody, 'I told you so.'"

Related Videos
© 2023 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.