Can I sue a veterinarian for medical malpractice or negligence?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Can I sue a veterinarian for medical malpractice or negligence?

My dog started with a limp on her hind legs, so I took her to a neurologist vet who prescribed a very strong dose of medication. Throughout the whole week, while giving my dog the medication, she started getting worse symptoms each day. I called the vet to make sure that I updated them on every symptom that she was getting but the neurologist was never available to talk to. They said that he wouldn’t be in until Monday and the techs advised me to keep giving my dog the medication, even though I told them the symptoms she was experiencing (diarrhea, blood in stool, loss of appetite, anxiety and lethargy). I kept giving her the medication as advised but on Monday of last week, after 1 week of such a strong dose, she passed away. Before starting the medication, she was doing fine and not experiencing any of those symptoms. Another thing is that on the autopsy they found out that she had a tumor on her spinal cord that caused the disablement of her 2 hind legs, however the vet and radiologists had done X-rays and an MRI to rule out the

possibility of tumors. They said she did not have any but it turns out she did. There is other information that I would like to include but this is a shorter description of some of the main points I am wondering if anything

at all can be done because now I have lost my best friend? On top of that, I am stuck with a vet bill for over $4000 for the MRI done which did not even detect the tumor that she had.

Asked on July 9, 2019 under Malpractice Law, Iowa


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Yes, you can sue a vetrinarian for malpractice or negligence. But you can only sue for the economic losses you suffered--e.g. to recover the cost of the useless MRI, or the cost to create your dog. But that's all you can sue for: economic losses. The law does not give you anything for the loss of your best friend or the emotional trauma--pets are treated by the law as any other personal property (e.g. a car or TV) and no value is ascribed by the law to the relationship or love & companionship they provide. (And yes: I feel this wrong--my own dogs are family, not furniture or appliances--but unfortunately, it is the law.)
A malpractice case is expensive: you'd have to hire your own vet or animal pathologist to testify in court, and as you can imagine, they can charge thousands of dollars for their time to review the test results, write up a report, and testify. At the same time, winning is never certain, because if your dog would have died at about the same time even if she'd gotten the best treatement (e.g. the tumor was by then inoperable or metastasizing), then even if the care was negligent, there is no fault because the negligent care didn't cause the death--i.e. you could prove lack of care but still lose and not get anything. So you could spend a considerable amount on the suit by not recover any money.
Please do accept my sympathy for your loss.

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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