As a veterinarian, you'll probably face legal action at some point in your career. Unfortunately, it's just part of the profession. Therefore, you should understand the basics of veterinary malpractice so you know what to expect should you ever be served with a malpractice lawsuit. In this article, we provide an overview of veterinary malpractice for veterinarians.
Proving a Malpractice Lawsuit
In order to win a veterinary malpractice lawsuit, a pet owner must prove the following:
- you accepted responsibility to treat the animal;
- you failed to meet your professional standard of care;
- the pet was killed, injured, or got worse as a result of your treatment; and
- the pet's owner suffered damages (i.e., suffered some type of harm) due to your treatment of the pet.
Understanding the Elements of a Malpractice Lawsuit
As noted above, a pet owner must prove each of the elements above to succeed in a veterinary malpractice lawsuit. Proving that a veterinarian accepted responsibility to treat an animal isn't usually a problem for most pet owners. The other elements, however, can be more difficult to prove.
As a veterinarian, you are expected to act as an average practitioner would under similar circumstances. However, even if you fail to do so, but the pet suffers no harm as a result, then you can't be held liable for malpractice. On the other hand, if your failure to meet this standard of care harms the animal in some way, then you may have a problem.
Of course, as noted above, it's not enough for a pet owner to show that his or her pet was harmed in some way due to the treatment you provided. Rather, the pet owner must be able to demonstrate that he or she suffered real harm due to your actions.
Malpractice vs. Negligence
Not all mistakes that happen at a veterinary office constitute malpractice. Rather, pets are sometimes harmed due to simple negligence, which doesn't involve a violation of the veterinary standard of care. In a negligence case, the court examines whether a reasonable person would have acted similarly under the circumstances that led to the harm. Examples of negligence include:
- leaving a dog on a heating pad for too long of a period,
- allowing a dog to escape,
- forgetting to leave enough water or food, or
- failing to turn a deceased dog's body over to a funeral organization.
Contact Our Experienced Veterinary Attorneys
If you're a veterinarian facing a malpractice or negligence lawsuit, you need a veterinary practice litigation attorney on your side. At Mahan Law, we know the veterinary business. Founded by veterinary hospital owner Anthony Mahan, our firm is dedicated to helping veterinarians avoid litigation by assisting them with the design of proactive policies and procedures. And when litigation can't be avoided, our attorneys are as comfortable at the settlement table as they are in the courtroom. Please contact us to schedule a consultation.