Investigating Veterinary Malpractice Claims Expert Article

Legal investigations involving veterinary care provided to family pets often requires expert evaluation of the received medical care. Like the practice of human medicine, veterinarians are also expected to meet minimum standards of practice or standards of care. These are outlined by both state and national licensing boards, most notably of which is the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Unlike humans, veterinary patients are legally considered to be private property, which may complicate assessment of damage claims in veterinary malpractice suits.

This article discusses expert investigation into veterinary standards of care and the different types of disputes that may arise.

Veterinary Malpractice Cases Focused on Harm to Animals

In the practice of any type of medicine, an adverse event is defined as: 

“...an event in which care resulted in an undesirable clinical outcome – an outcome not caused by underlying disease – that prolonged the patient stay, caused permanent harm, required life-saving intervention, or contributed to death” (oig.hhs.gov).

Adverse events commonly arise from unexpected side effects or complications of treatment. These adverse events, however, may also be related to medical errors or negligence.

Malpractice claims asserting that the veterinarian failed to meet the minimum standard of care, potentially leading to the pet’s injury or death, often require expert medical review to analyze the underlying cause of an adverse event. This analysis may involve investigating the documentation of the pet’s treatment and hospitalization. This could also include assessment of medical records for the pet, imaging studies, communication logs, and notes or files maintained by the pet owner.

Many veterinary patients are treated at multiple facilities and the totality of these records may provide a more comprehensive picture of the extent of the relevant veterinary care. Expert evaluation of the medical history in a malpractice claim can provide valuable analysis for counsel representing the pet owner or the veterinarian involved in these cases.

Veterinary Malpractice Cases Focused on Harm to Humans

While perhaps less common, some disputes focus on claims that a failure to comply with the standards of care occurred such that humans were endangered due to lack of care by the veterinarian. In these cases, there may be an allegation that improper restraint during a procedure resulted in an unreasonably dangerous condition that caused a bite, scratch, or cut to the pet owner.

In these circumstances, a veterinary expert can assess whether the standard of care for use of the restraint type or device was met, whether the pet owner is usually allowed in a procedure room during the specific treatment, and whether the veterinary staff was properly trained to assist in the procedure. Analysis by our veterinary experts focuses on each aspect to provide a holistic investigation focused on standard of care.

Malpractice Cases Focused on Harm to Veterinarians

Veterinarians are increasingly susceptible to harassment and/or defamation, both in person and online. This may be especially relentless when amplified through various social media or online rating resources. In some cases, the harassment of veterinarians and/or their staff follows an adverse or negative outcome that the pet owner attributes to malpractice. In other cases, the pet owner may question the cost or extent of the treatment provided by the veterinarian. These latter cases may focus on the assumption that a higher cost of care increases the probability of a positive outcome for the pet.

Harassment, including cyberbullying campaigns, may lead to financial losses for the veterinarian, the clinic, the support staff, and owners of other patients that have to move their pets due to disruptions in the ability of the clinic to provide treatment.  

From a veterinary perspective, the most common investigation of harassment or defamation requires assessment of the veracity of the claims against the veterinary practice in question. Veterinary experts often analyze the care provided to the pet, the level of client communication that took place regarding the proposed or received treatment, the treatment history of other animals at the clinic, and the level of training support staff received.  

Veterinary Expert Witness Investigations

The experts at Robson Forensic are frequently retained to investigate the adequacy of veterinary care provided in animal hospitals, emergency clinics, and other animal care facilities. Our experts can address many aspects of these cases from administrative policies and procedures to the level of medical care provided by veterinary professionals, animal control records, and the employee handbooks and training histories of staff members.

For more information, call us at 800.813.6736 or submit an inquiry

Featured Expert

McGee Leonard, Veterinary Expert

McGee Leonard, DVM, DACVECC

Veterinary Expert
Dr. McGee Leonard is a board-certified specialist in veterinary emergency and critical care medicine with a decade of professional experience in veterinary science and practice. Dr. Leonard applies… read more.

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