Tort Watch for Animal Lovers

By Judy Sarasohn
Thursday, December 29, 2005

Distraught pet owners are not marching on Washington -- yet -- to win the right to sue for the loss of companionship if their dogs and cats are injured or killed. But that's not stopping lobbyists for pet-medicine manufacturers from keeping an eye on the Hill.

And if an issue in Washington has anything to do with liability, lawyer-lobbyist Victor E. Schwartz is not far away.

Schwartz is one of the biggest names in product liability defense (he represents the American Tort Reform Association) and is a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon. He and his colleague Philip S. Goldberg recently registered to lobby on behalf of the Animal Health Institute on animal health liability legislation.

The institute's member companies include Bayer Healthcare LLC, Hartz Mountain Corp., Monsanto Co., Novartis Animal Health US Inc. and Schering-Plough Animal Health Corp., among others.

Pet owners and other animal owners can currently sue for economic damages -- such as the cost of medical care, training or replacing the animal. The institute and veterinarians worry that if Congress, state legislatures or the courts expand that to cover loss of companionship or pain and suffering, the result could be "an insurance crisis" for veterinarians or the companies, Schwartz said.

"If soft or non-economic compensatory damages were allowed, costs of vets would zoom, and many animals would not get the care they need or would be put to sleep when not absolutely necessary," Schwartz said.

There is no legislation pending, and Schwartz said he is discussing the issue with some lawmakers "very initially." It will be up to the institute to decide next year whether to seek legislation that would restrict non-economic damages, he said.

Adrian Hochstadt , assistant director of state legislative and regulatory affairs at the American Veterinary Medical Association, said his group is focusing on the state level, where the vets think the threat of legislation to allow non-economic damages is greatest.

If the issue does gain traction on Capitol Hill, Schwartz will see representatives of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on the other side.

"Our laws ought to honor the bonds that human caregivers have" with animals, said Leana Stormont , a PETA counsel. "There's a real difference between property and the animals we share our homes and hearts with. . . . People who grieve for their animals shouldn't have to accept market value as a measure of damages."

For the record, Schwartz is the new co-owner of a golden Lab puppy, Kieley; while Goldberg has a 5-year-old husky-shepherd named Quincy.

Ashcroft Group Teams With Israel Aircraft

The Ashcroft Group , the consulting shop founded by former attorney general John D. Ashcroft , has picked up Israel Aircraft Industries International Inc. as a lobbying client. The company has export control issues that it wants help with from Ashcroft's people -- though Ashcroft did not register to lobby. Those who did register with Congress were Lori Sharpe Day , former lobbyist for the U.S. Air Transport Association; Willie Gaynor , finance director for the Bush inauguration last January; and Juleanna Glover Weiss , Vice President Cheney's former press secretary.

Change of Address

Richard A. Deem , a veteran of the American Medical Association, has moved up to be senior vice president of advocacy. Earlier, he worked at the Senate and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Barie Carmichael , Dow Corning's former top communications official, is joining APCO Worldwide as a senior counselor. At Dow Corning, Carmichael worked with APCO to devise "the global turn around strategy for the complex and emotional silicone breast implant controversy and . . . managing communication involving Chapter 11, layoffs, restructuring and regulatory issues," according to an APCO release.

After serving as publisher of Campaigns & Elections magazine and more recently managing the governmental and political activities of the American Institute of Architects, Ron Faucheux is joining the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) as chief of staff.

"The devastation caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita changed everything," said Faucheux, a former Louisiana lawmaker. "Never before has a state's congressional delegation been more important to its future."

Telling It Like It Is

Sometimes the fit doesn't. Jeff Nelligan , managing director of public affairs for the Government Accountability Office for several years, has left Raytheon Co., where for the past year he was director of Washington public relations/public affairs and communications for airspace management and homeland security -- and is looking about. Nice folks, but it just wasn't working out, he says.

"I could give some jive about wanting to spend more time with the family but the fact is, it didn't work here and at my age, it was time to get back to politics and media," Nelligan said in an e-mail to friends and contacts.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company