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Can a Veterinarian Sue a Customer for a Dog Bite?

Veterinarians occasionally must deal with unruly dogs. Therefore, an occasional dog bite is seen by most veterinarians as an accepted occupational hazard. Despite this, a veterinarian sometimes suffers serious enough injuries to seek legal recourse against a dog’s owner. In this article, we examine whether a veterinarian can successfully sue a customer for a dog bite. 

The general rule 

The general rule regarding dog bites is that a dog owner is liable for injuries caused by his or her pet. However, a defense is available when a dog bite victim was aware of a dog’s dangerous nature prior to the injury. This defense is known as the assumption-of-risk defense. Under this defense, a dog owner can argue that a victim voluntarily undertook the risk that led to his or her injury. Due to the nature of the veterinary profession, this defense is often asserted when a veterinarian seeks to recover for injuries sustained due to a dog bite. 

Assumption of risk and veterinarians 

In some states, courts apply the assumption-of-risk defense when a dog bites a veterinarian. In these states, courts reason that veterinarians accept the risk of animal bites as part of their work. 

Using similar logic, courts have found that the assumption-of-risk rule extends to vet techs, veterinary assistants, pet groomers, kennel operators, and other people whose jobs require them to work with animals.

Exceptions to the assumption-of-risk defense

Even in states that apply the assumption-of-risk defense to veterinarians, there may be exceptions under certain circumstances. For example, a dog owner may still be liable for a veterinarian’s injuries if:

  • The owner still had full control of the dog at the time of the bite, or
  • The owner hid a specific hazard that went beyond the normal risk of working with animals.

Veterinarians as keepers of dogs they treat

In addition to the assumption-of-risk rule, some courts have found additional ways to dismiss lawsuits by veterinarians who are bitten on the job. For example, some courts have found that veterinarians should be considered the keepers of dogs under their care. This essentially places a veterinarian in the shoes of a dog’s owner for the period during which he or she has possession of the animal. This precludes a veterinarian from filing a lawsuit for a dog bite suffered during this period. 

Contact Our Experienced Veterinary Attorneys 

The veterinary business is one unlike any other. Therefore, if you own a veterinary practice, you need a veterinary practice litigation attorney on your team. At Mahan Law, we understand the ins and outs of the veterinary business. Founded by veterinary hospital owner Anthony Mahan, our veterinary litigation practice is dedicated to helping veterinary practice owners avoid litigation. However, when litigation is unavoidable, our attorneys are as comfortable in the courtroom as they are at the negotiation table. Regardless of your legal needs, our veterinary attorneys are here to help. Please contact us today for a consultation.