Can I bring a malpractice lawsuit against a veterinarian?

UPDATED: Aug 2, 2011

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Can I bring a malpractice lawsuit against a veterinarian?

My 10 year old pet was operated on for a ruptured anal gland;10 days later he died due to the operation. After the operation the vet informed me that my pet had diabetes. I feel that the diabetes should have been treated before the operation. My pet had been very active swimming in our pool, playing catch with a tennis ball, and loved the beach. I miss my little buddy and I want to make this vet pay for his mistake.

Asked on August 2, 2011 Maryland


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

First, know that you have our sympathy.

Second, you can sue a veterinarian for  malpractice, though remember: malpractice  is literally "bad practice," or medical care which is negligent, careless, not up to accepted standards, etc. Sometimes, for both human and animal patients, a medical care provider does everything right and the patient still dies. So if the "average reasonable" vet would have not previously diagnosed or treated the diabetes, or done something differently, then there most likely is not any liability.

Third, unlike with human victims of negligence or malpractice, the courts typically only allow you to recover the economic value of the animal--i.e. what the pet was worth, or the cost to replace him or her--and not for emotional distress, loss of companionship, etc. (There may be some exceptions in exceptionally extreme cases of intentional wrongdoing, where a claim for intentional infliction of emotional harm can be made out, but those are very much exceptions.) This unfortunately limits what you can sue for, making it uneconomical to sue in most cases (unless it's a champion, pedigreed, etc. animal) and also limiting the punative value against the vet.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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