Can You Sue for Veterinarian Malpractice?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Humans are not the only patients who can be the victims of malpractice. Veterinarians treating dogs, cats or any other pet can also be sued for providing substandard care to their furry patients. 

Physician-related malpractice cases are known for yielding very high settlements, if won. They do, however, tend to be long, drawn-out cases that end in no settlement probably as often as large ones. Vet malpractice cases are not usually as substantial. Many do not see the inside of a court room and don’t make for big money for plaintiffs. But there is recourse under the law for pet owners who feel they were wronged by the negligence of a vet. 

Malpractice cases involve showing that the accused professional acted in a way that was not up to the standards of other professionals in the same industry, in the same area and with the same resources. This is the standard for both doctors and veterinarians. But with vets, the duty is to the service of the animal and when the vet agrees to treat the animal, they accept this obligation and can be held legally accountable if they fail to uphold it. 

Malpractice lawsuits will also involve showing that there was an injury sustained by the patient–in these cases, the dog, cat, horse or other pet. But pet owners are also considered in this element. Animals can’t tell us that they are in pain, but if an animal undergoes surgery and does not come out alive because of an error, or must recieve ongoing treatment due to an injury caused by a vet’s negligence, this can lead to emotional stress for the pet owner and/or cause financial costs and other inconveniences that may warrant recovery. In order to recover damages, it will have to be shown that the professional was directly responsible for the injury or death of the pet.

Filing a lawsuit and going through the process of court proceedings can be very costly. So it may be a better option for pet owners who feel their vet acted wrongfully to take the issue to small claims court, where they will not need an attorney. Or, filing a complaint with the state veterinarian licensing office could be enough to bring justice. But if a vet caused the death or serious injury of a beloved animal, it is understandable that a person would seek damages by way of a lawsuit. If this is the case, hiring a lawyer, getting a case together and filing a malpractice lawsuit is certainly an option.

Health care standards are not just for humans. Those who own pets know there’s truth to the phrase, “man’s best friend” and cats are just as much a part of the family as any other. The health care of pets is considered under the law and pet owners do have recourse if a pet is injured. 

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