Can you sue a vet in the case of malpractice?
Finding and developing a good relationship with a reliable veterinarian is an important part of being a responsible pet owner. You trust your vet to diagnose and treat your animal when they’re not feeling well. But what if something goes horribly wrong during a routine procedure? A vet could make an egregious error that injures or kills your pet. This brings us to this important question: “Can you sue a veterinarian for malpractice?” Similar to family members who file medical malpractice claims against medical providers, pet owners also have the right to file malpractice claims against vets. If a vet acted negligently and harmed your pet in Florida, here’s what you need to know about professional liability in the veterinary industry.
What is Veterinarian Malpractice?
Malpractice refers to wrongdoing or negligence by a professional service provider. In veterinary medicine, it is defined as the failure of a veterinarian to give a reasonable level of care to an animal under their care. It may or may not result in the animal’s death. However, any harm caused by a vet’s incompetence can be considered malpractice.
Veterinarian malpractice may take the form of:
- Failure to take necessary steps to protect the animal
- Failure to adequately identify or treat a medical issue
- Inaccurate treatment or misdiagnosis
- Delayed diagnosis
- Failing to advise their client about the risks of the recommended treatment
- Permitting untrained staff to conduct complex procedures on a pet
- Making errors during a surgical procedure that results in the death of a pet
What to Do If You Suspect Your Vet Has Committed Malpractice
There are several courses of action available to you if you suspect your pet was injured or died because of veterinary malpractice.
- Sending a complaint to the Florida State Veterinary Licensing Board, which has the authority to either revoke or suspend a vet’s license.
- Suing the vet in a court of law
- An attorney can negotiate a settlement or file a lawsuit
- You can pursue your case in small claims court. However, the amount you can obtain in this court will be smaller compared to other courts.
Malpractice or Simple Negligence
It’s important to note that not all errors that occur in the pet hospital or vet’s office are linked to the vet’s professional aptitude and judgment. Occasionally, pets are injured outside the jurisdiction of a veterinary practice.
As mentioned above, some of the actions that may constitute malpractice include prescribing the wrong course of treatment, misdiagnosing a pet’s illness, or committing a surgical mistake.
Some of the actions of simple negligence include:
- Letting a pet escape through a door carelessly left open
- Leaving a pet on a heating pad too long
- Failing to turn over a pet’s body to a funeral organization
- Forgetting to leave enough food and water
Vets, just like their support staff, may be responsible for simple negligence. Regardless of who was liable, the standard in simple negligence lawsuits is what another reasonable person would do in similar circumstances, which isn’t the case with malpractice.
Proving Vet Malpractice in Florida
To demonstrate that the vet failed to live up to professional standards, you must first establish what those standards are in Florida. Usually, the standard of care is what a reasonable veterinarian would do under similar circumstances. As certified specialists, vets are measured by what other competent professionals would do.
You must prove that your animal suffered harm due to the veterinarian’s substandard care. To do so, you’ll need an expert witness who can testify about what your vet ought to have done but failed to do.
For a successful malpractice case, you must demonstrate that:
- The vet agreed to treat your pet
- The treatment fell short of the professional standard of care for treating the animal
- The failure caused the animal more injury, sickness, or death
- Because of the animal’s injury, the animal’s owner experienced harm
However, harm to you doesn’t include the emotional distress.
Monetary Compensation in a Veterinary Malpractice Lawsuit
Your pet is a family member and has infinite value for you. Unfortunately, Florida law hasn’t always seen it that way. In the eyes of the law, pets are seen as personal property, so the amount of damages that can be recovered in a veterinary malpractice lawsuit is limited.
The law does not allow pet owners to recover damages for their own emotional or mental distress caused by their pet’s injury or death unless the vet engaged in intentional or egregious misconduct. Typically, damages in veterinary malpractice cases are limited to the cost of additional medical treatment and care required to address the harm caused by the vet’s malpractice. If your pet dies because of malpractice, you may only be able to recover its market value.
Since damages in veterinary malpractice cases are modest, bringing your case to a small claims court may be a more cost-effective.
There’s a growing trend in Florida to view pets and companion animals in a more realistic light. Some courts are coming to recognize that these animals cannot be replaced. Over time, pet owners will be allowed to receive larger recoveries that take into account the animal’s economic and intrinsic value.
Contact The Goodwin Firm to Work With a Pet’s Rights Attorney
If you’ve had a bad experience with a vet, contact the animal rights attorney at the Goodwin firm today. Our attorney is experienced in this area and can evaluate your case and let you know whether it seems worth suing your veterinarian for malpractice.