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Can a Vet Sue an Owner Following a Dog Bite?

Veterinarians routinely deal with agitated and unruly animals. Therefore, it isn’t unusual for veterinarians to suffer the occasional bite or scratch. Although many of these incidents are minor, veterinarians sometimes suffer serious injuries. This raises the following question: can a vet sue an owner following a dog bite? 

Dog Owners are Generally Liable for Bites

Under normal circumstances, an owner is usually liable for injuries caused by his or her dog. However, if a dog bite victim was aware of a dog’s dangerous nature prior to the bite, then the owner can assert this as a defense in court. This defense, which is known as the assumption-of-risk defense, allows the owner of a dog to argue that a person who was bitten voluntarily undertook the risk due to his or her prior knowledge of the dog’s nature. Depending on the state, this defense is sometimes asserted when a veterinarian sues a dog owner over a bite. 

Assumption of Risk by Veterinarians 

As noted above, depending on the state, courts sometimes apply the assumption-of-risk defense when a dog injures a veterinarian. The courts that apply this defense reason that animal bites are an inherent risk of the veterinary profession. Using a similar rationale, courts have found that the assumption-of-risk rule also extends to veterinary assistants, vet techs, kennel operators, pet groomers, and other professionals who work with animals for a living.  

Exceptions

Even if a state applies the assumption-of-risk defense to veterinarians, there may be exceptions depending on the circumstances. Common exceptions to the assumption-of-risk defense include: 

  • The dog owner had full control of his or her dog at the time it bit the veterinarian.
  • The dog owner hid a specific hazard from the veterinarian that went beyond the normal risk of working with animals.

Veterinarians as Animal Keepers

Courts in some states have found additional reasons to dismiss lawsuits by veterinarians who are bitten by dogs while on the job. For example, some courts have held that a veterinarian should be considered the keeper of the animals under his or her care. From a legal perspective, this places a veterinarian in the shoes of a dog’s owner while he or she has possession of the animal. This prevents a veterinarian from filing a lawsuit for a dog bite suffered while it was in his or her possession. 

Contact a Veterinary Attorney Today 

The veterinary business is unique. Therefore, if you own a veterinary practice and require legal assistance, not just any attorney will do. Instead, you need an experienced veterinary practice litigation attorney on your side. At Mahan Law, we know the veterinary business. Founded by veterinary hospital owner Anthony Mahan, our veterinary litigation practice is focused on helping veterinary practice owners avoid, initiate, and respond to litigation. Please contact us today to schedule a free consultation.