Can I Sue A Veterinarian for Medical Malpractice?
Written by Cooper & Friedman PLLC on September 14, 2022
The loss or injury of an animal or pet can certainly be a heartbreaking and frustrating ordeal when it comes to veterinary medical malpractice. It’s not something you ever want to have to face, or even think about – but what actually happens if you suspect your veterinarian has violated medical laws and committed medical malpractice? Can you sue?
The answer? Technically yes, but the real question when it comes to veterinary medical malpractice isn’t can you sue, it’s should you sue.
There are plenty of factors that go into these types of situations, making it easier for some to receive compensation than others. Historically speaking, however, suing veterinarians hasn’t made economic sense when it pertains to pet owners who believe they have suffered due to veterinary medical malpractice.
Why is this?
Because unless the animal was of high market value – e.g. a racehorse (especially prevalent in Kentucky), a purebred/stud dog, a rare breed of an animal, income-accruing animals like cattle or pigs, etc. – monetary damages are allocated based on market-value loss. So, unfortunately for the everyday pet parent, no emotional damages are usually considered, since pets and animals are deemed stock and property in the legal sphere. And, with the cost of a lawyer in non-small claims courts, veterinary medical malpractice cases can sometimes end up costing more than the damages award.
When Should I Consider Suing for Veterinary Medical Malpractice?
While there has been some change in select courts who take into consideration the intrinsic or emotional value of a pet, and precedent cases have favored owners at times, these are few and far between. There are different awards to ask for, though, and not every case is a hopeless one. A free consultation is available for you in situations like these, when you believe you have evidence of veterinary medical malpractice and want to know if a court case is viable.
Under current law, an animal is viewed as an item of personal property and most courts limit recovery to:
- The cost of replacing a companion animal with a new one
- The total value if the animal is lost
- The diminution in value if the animal is injured
- Any associated veterinary bills, including the additional cost of care for animals that survive with issues
- Loss of any income that may have occurred
If you believe that you qualify for any of these damages, you may benefit from a consultation, especially if your animal has a high market value.
For an extended list of definitions, processes, and potential legal actions that can and have been taken in cases of veterinary medical malpractice, visit Michigan State University Legal and Historical Animal Center’s “Detailed Discussion of Veterinarian Malpractice“.
How Is Veterinary Medical Malpractice Proven?
In addition, however, to believing that you have suffered injury or loss due to veterinary medical malpractice, you must prove it, as well. For your case to become viable in court, there are several factors that must be proven per a traditional malpractice claim in order to recover any damages for injury to an animal under a veterinarian’s care.
The criteria for proper verification include that:
1. The defendant (the veterinarian) was under a duty of care toward the injured or lost animal in question.
- This means that the veterinarian had accepted responsibility to treat the animal that the owner brought to their office – this is usually done by contract, and is included within in-patient or new patient forms that you fill out the first time you bring your pet in for care at their practice.
2. The actions or inaction of the veterinarian fell below the professional standard of care.
- Oftentimes, this step includes expert testimony from other veterinarians in order to establish that the defendant’s conduct fell below the professional standard. Excluding any state-by-state variation in definition, in general, this means that the veterinarian did not act with reasonable skill, diligence, and/or attention as would be expected of other veterinarians in the community.
3. This deviation from the standard of care was undoubtedly the cause or proximate cause of the animal’s injury.
- With proximate cause, a malpractice plaintiff must show that the veterinarian’s actions set in motion a train of events that brought about the injury to the animal without the intervention of any other independent source.
4. The injury or harm resulted in damages to the plaintiff, as well – not only to the animal in question.
- This criterion stems from the fact the animal injured is not a party to the lawsuit. Thus, the owner must show that he or she suffered some loss – either monetary or, more infrequently, on an emotional level.
There is a stipulation, however, regarding some cases. Res ipsa loquitur – meaning “the thing speaks for itself” – may be applied if the injury in question was obviously due to the improper actions or inactions, negligence, or any other reason in which the fault was undoubtedly the veterinarian’s. This stipulation can only be applied if the injury was due to a procedure and/or complications understandable to the jury or everyday person. If the injury is cited as proximate cause or requires an expert to comprehend the cause and effect of the claim, then res ipsa loquitur cannot be applied.
What Should I Do if I Decide to Pursue Legal Action?
Firstly, should you decide to proceed with a claim, be sure that your case will be considered within the timeframe that state law outlines. There is a statute of limitations on veterinary malpractice claims in Kentucky that specify the fact that you only have one year from the time of injury to bring a lawsuit. Seeing how it takes time to investigate a lawsuit and prepare it, this time limit must be taken into account.
If you decide to pursue legal action in the case of veterinary medical malpractice with appropriate time, there are several steps you can take to benefit your case.
- Preserve any evidence you can, even if it doesn’t seem like evidence.
- This can include emails, photographs, samples of feed and products, prescriptions and their bottles, texts messages that are pertinent to your case – especially that are time-stamped – and any other detail that may contribute to your claim.
- Have a necropsy done right away, if your animal passed away.
- A necropsy is the animal version of an autopsy, and can be done by some private veterinarians, at select universities, or at labs that work on large animals. This must be done ASAP, ideally before most after-death processes begin to impact necropsy results. It is impossible to do necropsies on cremated animals, though – so keep that in mind as you are presented with burial options.
- Keep any veterinary records – both pre- and post-accident.
- Veterinary records much more niche than human medical records, so when you get an expert’s opinion, they may pick things out that you didn’t get. Any records can be considered as evidence, though, and should be kept for potential use in a case.
- Keep your own records.
- Again, like any evidence, any diary or record keeping that you took during the incident has the potential to help. Keeping time-stamps or electronic versions may also be beneficial as further proof that the evidence wasn’t fabricated after the fact.
If you or someone you love has had an animal injured or lost due to veterinary medical malpractice in the State of Kentucky and are in need of an experienced injury attorney, give the lawyers at the Cooper & Friedman law firm a call. The attorneys at Cooper and Friedman PLLC have over 50 years of combined experience defending the rights of injury victims. Schedule a free case consultation with an attorney by calling 502-459-7555 today.