Many pet owners view their pets as any other member of the family. In the eyes of the law though, companion animals are viewed as though they are pieces of personal property.
Despite the law, pet owners are increasingly suing for veterinarian malpractice when their animals die as a result of incompetent care.
Veterinary malpractice claims can be just as difficult to litigate as medical malpractice claims involving humans, but often the potential for monetary recovery is much lower. This is because animals' status as property means that owners are usually reimbursed only for their actual monetary losses. It can be very hard to recover pain and suffering damages for the loss of a non-human companion.
However, some pet law attorneys are having success with creative arguments such as comparing the animals to treasured family heirlooms or other irreplaceable possessions. Additionally, some state courts are beginning to allow owners to recover for the animal's "reasonable sentimental value," so long as the owner's relationship with the pet is not excessive.
Other pet owners pursue veterinarian malpractice claims knowing full well that they may only achieve a modest financial recovery. They just want to hold the veterinarian accountable and help ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
What Do I Do if My Pet Has Been Mistreated?
If you think your pet has been a victim of veterinarian malpractice, there are at least two important steps you should take.
First, file a complaint with the veterinary licensing board in your state. The board is responsible for investigating veterinary misconduct and is empowered to revoke a veterinarian's license if that punishment is warranted. You should ask the licensing board to investigate the case and notify you of the results, as well as send a complaint to your county veterinary medical association.
You should also consider contacting a lawyer to pursue legal action against the veterinarian.
Source: ABA Journal, "Angry Over the Death of a Beloved Pet, More Owners Sue the Animal's Vet," Martha Neil, Nov. 4, 2011.
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