Your pets are a part of your family. Just like you would care for a human member of the family, we care for our pets in the same way when they are ill or need medical attention. However, not all humans share the same belief and can be quite nonchalant when it comes to the animal members of our family. We put our faith in our veterinarians and trust our babies to their hands. We expect our pets to be treated and properly cared for during their stay at the vets. But what should one do if it is apparent that your veterinarian was neglectful or made a mistake during the diagnosis or treatment of your animal which may have hurt them?
What is veterinary malpractice?
Veterinary malpractice is basically the exact same thing as medical malpractice. The only difference being that the victims are not humans, but animals. If you suspect that your pet has been killed, hurt, or harmed because of negligence or carelessness on the part of your veterinarian, this may be considered malpractice.
What can I do if I suspect veterinary malpractice?
There are several avenues to take and courses of action to follow if you are suspicious of your vet committing malpractice. If your pet has been injured or killed because of negligence, it might be a good idea to consult with a solicitor. You should find a solicitor who specialises in such cases.
A solicitor will advise you to take any of the following actions after reviewing the case.
- You may lodge an official complaint to your local veterinary licensing board. A veterinarian’s license may be suspended or revoked by state licensing boards.
- A solicitor may try to negotiate a settlement with the vet.
- You could also sue the veterinarian for damages in a court of law.
- A solicitor may also advise you to pursue your case in small claims court.
Ideally your first preference should be to attempt negotiating with your vet. If the issue cannot be resolved through your vet’s complaints procedure, you may consider contacting the Veterinary Client Mediation Service here in the UK for free.
If you decide to opt for legal action against the negligence, you have to ensure that you start the proceedings within six years of the event.
How to make sure if my Vet has been Negligent?
A vet is expected to provide a reasonable degree of professionalism and care to their patient. Not all errors made in the line of duty are considered criminal negligence. Even if vets make a mistake, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have been careless or negligent. There could be any number of contributing factors to your pet’s condition.
To prove that veterinary malpractice has occurred, there needs to be evidence that your vet did not execute his duty with the competence, judgment, and skill that would be expected from a qualified veterinary practitioner.
Proving criminal negligence can be a tough task. It usually comes down to the veterinary practitioner’s professional judgement and what they considered to be the most suitable treatment for your pet. It may help to get a second opinion from another reputable vet, but keep in mind that they may be reluctant to get involved in a lawsuit against a fellow practitioner.
Factors to consider before contemplating legal action against your vet
When contemplating legal action, you must determine whether your vet has breached the duty of care. The following factors must be put under consideration.
- Were professional standards being followed?
- Was the vet’s approach to the clinical management a reasonably accepted one?
- What is the level of expertise of the vet?
- Did breach of duty result in the loss?
- Was the damage or loss foreseeable?
What can I claim in a veterinary malpractice lawsuit?
Under current UK law, you may not claim any compensation for emotional suffering or pain of an animal. The only losses that may be claimed are the financial losses borne by you. If the financial loss you have suffered falls under £10,000, you must take your case to the Small Claims Court. In the past, veterinary malpractice claims have usually been on the low side. However this trend is beginning to change. Under our laws an animal falls under the category of personal property. Some courts will limit your claim to the cost you would bear in buying another animal of the same kind. This may seem unfair, so the good news is that some UK courts are beginning to realize that a companion animal is like a family member, and pets are unique beings that cannot be replaced. These courts now sometimes allow larger claims and recoveries after taking into account that an animal may have value to the owner beyond its cost. Taking into account your pet’s intrinsic value, the claim may be more generous.