Lawsuit Says Purina's Beneful Is Killing Dogs; Attorney Jeffrey Cereghino Explains

A lawsuit has been filed against Nestlé Purina Petcare Company claiming that the company’s Beneful dog food is killing pets. The class action was filed in federal district court in California on behalf of Frank Lucido. The suit alleges that thousands of dogs have become ill or died as a result of eating Beneful. Class action lawyer Jeffrey Cereghino, plaintiffs’ counsel in the lawsuit, explains the case in this report.

Jeffrey Cereghino

Jeffrey Cereghino

Cereghino relates that Mr. Lucido had three pets in three locations who all developed health problems. The only common element was the Beneful dog food. One dog died, the other two became seriously ill. The different locations tended to rule out environmental issues. Then, online research and discussions with veterinarians disclosed that there were many people who had reported problems with Beneful. For example, one woman lost both her dogs in a matter of weeks after switching to Beneful. The lawsuit followed.

Cereghino opines that the problem with Beneful is that mycotoxins are entering the food through its grain components. Purina has a long history as a pet food manufacturer. There are still now clear answers as to how all this is happening. Cereghino says that toxicologists are being hired to analyze samples of Beneful from victims all over the country.

Another unanswered question is whether the mycotoxins got into every sack of Beneful or only some of them. Cereghino says that his firm “is getting inundated” with emails—almost 200 per hour—about the problem. There have been at least 4,000 pets who have died from the food, as alleged in the lawsuit. The claims are spread out all over the country, and some of them go back to 2013. Purina says that it gets its grain locally. However, in some past problems of different kinds, contaminated grain from China somehow found its way into the food chain, and perhaps that is a possibility here.

So far as Cereghino is aware, only Purina is having a problem with its dog food. So far, there has been no recall of any Beneful. In its public statements, Purina has not yet acknowledged that any problems exist with Beneful. There has been no discovery so far, so many things are not yet clear.

Cereghino says that, based on anecdotal evidence, the problem can appear after only one Beneful feeding. Again, more will be known as more evidence is compiled and discovery begins in the lawsuit. Information from toxicologists will help to develop more information about how long it takes for problems to develop. So far, the most common problem has been significant internal bleeding. Other symptoms include lethargy, hair loss, liver failure, and kidney failure are other problems that have occurred.

The issue of damages will be a tough one. Courts have traditionally viewed pets as chattels as opposed to the way humans are treated. Cereghino says that some jurisdictions have begun to change the way the loss of an animal companion if valued in assessing damages.

Jeffrey B. Cereghino is a Partner at Ram, Olson, Cereghino & Kopczynski, LLP, located in San Francisco, California. His practice area primarily focuses upon complex litigation and class actions. He represents consumers in class action matters as well as property owners in complex construction and product liability actions. He is admitted to numerous Federal District Courts, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and multiple state courts. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.

Tougher Rules for Retirement Fund Advisors Will Affect Structured Settlement Planners: Mark Wahlstrom Explains

President Obama and the Department of Labor have proposed some new regulations for financial advisors who deal with retirement funds. The new regulations will affect those who handle structured settlements and advise people about them. Structured settlements expert Mark Wahlstrom discusses the new proposals in this report.

Mark Wahlstrom

Mark Wahlstrom

The proposed regulations would make the major change of putting financial advisors into a fiduciary relationship with clients, or at least holding them to a fiduciary standard. This is a change from the existing suitability standard of disclosure and care towards the customer. See section 202 (a) (11) (B) and (C) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The advisor would have to act in the best interest of the client in several regards, including selection, pricing, and the compensation of the product. The suitability standard requires only that the product be suitable for the client.

The administration claims that clients are losing $17 billion yearly in overcharges, bad investments, and higher ongoing charges. The insurance industry and the broker dealer community has opposed the new standard for quite some time as being excessive in relation to the standard of care already in place. However, as Wahlstrom points out, with the president and the Department of Labor behind it, “this is a freight train that’s coming down the tracks.” The new regulations will probably be implemented.

Wahlstom explains that this development is important for structured settlement planners because it appears to be the beginning of a change in attitude and of a required care standard for those who give financial advice. The proposed fiduciary standard change will apply to those who deal with retirement funds, including 401(k) and IRA funds. Wahlstrom says that, once this becomes the norm for those handling retirement funds, there will be a movement to apply the standard more broadly.

For most financial advisors, the only discretionary management money is retirement money. If the fiduciary standard is applied in a broader way, as Wahlstrom believes will happen, it will drive people toward big institutional entities that can afford the people and resources that would be involved in complying with the new standard. The new standard will also create liability issues to be dealt with.

Wahlstrom’s advice: Handle yourself in any structured settlement as though you were in a fiduciary relationship with settlement recipients. Be transparent in your pricing. Explain how the investment companies are selected. Discuss your clients’ overall needs and issues. Write it down and document it. Wahlstrom points out that most structured settlement funds, large and small, “are aggressively going into asset management.” A lot of money is going into alternative investments. “If you’re not working on a fiduciary standard on those, I think you’re at peril.”

Structured settlement planners need to disclose options as well as their track record in past structured settlement plans. The Department of Labor is “the big gorilla,” says Wahlsrom, "and big gorillas and hurricanes . . . go wherever they want to go and do whatever they want to do.” Everyone in the structured settlement field should be planning now for what Wahlstrom believes is inevitable.

Mark Wahlstrom, President of Wahlstrom & Associates, founded of one of the nation's first plaintiff only structured settlement firms in 1983 and is a renowned specialist in settlement planning, structured settlement annuities, structured legal fees, and the administration of large, complex multi-claimant settlements using qualified settlement funds and trusts. He has also become widely known over the last decade for his innovative development of an online broadcast platform, Sequence Media Group, upon which he has produced hundreds of hours of shows for The Legal Broadcast Network, and The Settlement Channel, with the content being of interest to attorneys, paralegals, judges and settlement professionals all over the United States. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.

$14 Million Verdict to Indian Workers in Human Trafficking Case

A jury in the U.S. district court in New Orleans has awarded $14 million in compensatory and punitive damages to five Indian guest workers who were defrauded and exploited in a labor trafficking scheme. The five were part of a group of nearly 500 men brought to America as H-2B guest workers. The jury found that Signal International, New Orleans lawyer Malvern C. Burnett and India-based recruiter Sachin Dewan engaged in labor trafficking, fraud, racketeering and discrimination. Plaintiffs’ attorney Joseph Bjarnson, who devoted hundreds of pro bono hours to the case, discusses the trial and explains what will happen next.

Joseph Bjarnson

Joseph Bjarnson

Bjarnson notes that the case has been going on for about seven years. Other lawyers on the plaintiffs’ side in this case included participants from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, Crowell & Moring, LLP, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Louisiana Justice Institute.

Bjarnson says that the plaintiffs are welders and pipefitters, and they were working in India and Saudia Arabia, when they were offered work with Signal International in Mississippi and Texas. When they were recruited, they were told that they would be able to obtain green cards and get permanent U.S. residency. The promises turned out to be false. The men arrived in the U.S. after paying unreasonably high fees for what they thought to be green cards. In fact, they were put in labor camps and did not receive what they were promised.

This is one of the largest verdicts ever in a human trafficking case, Bjarnson explains. And human trafficking is probably more common than most people would expect. There are some flaws in the temporary worker programs, and some companies have exploited those flaws. And though situation may not be what most people think of when they hear the words “human trafficking,” this is a common scenario.

As to how the system might be reformed to prevent these problems from occurring, Bjarnson opines that better oversight of the program would be a good place to start. “There wasn’t a lot of oversight given into the company’s representations to the U.S. government to get these visas.” No real inquiry was made into the truth of the company’s statements.

Bjarnson says that the verdict will be appealed. He notes that there are a number of other lawsuits pending, so there will be more trials down the road, absent a settlement of the claims. Bjarnson says that he has seen no press releases from the defendants since the verdict was handed down. As to the immediate future, plaintiffs’ counsel will regroup and look to the future. They still represent seven more workers, and those trials are scheduled in 2016.

Joseph R. Bjarnson is an associate with Sahn Ward Coschignano & Baker, PLLC, Uniondale, New York. He focuses his practice on commercial litigation. Before joining the Firm, he was a corporate litigation associate at Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP, where his practice concentrated on complex commercial litigation involving the healthcare, banking, finance and insurance industries. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.