Legal Resource

What To Do When You Believe a Vet Has Harmed or Killed Your Companion Animal

You trust your veterinarian to diagnose, treat, and care for your animal family members. But what if you suspect that your veterinarian made a mistake — and that the mistake has hurt your animal?

This is a general overview of veterinary malpractice. As always, this overview is meant to help you understand this complicated issue, and is not a substitute for your own attorney.

What is veterinary malpractice?

Veterinary malpractice is essentially the same as medical malpractice, except the victims are animals. If a veterinarian harms or kills an animal due to carelessness or negligence, this may constitute malpractice.

What can you do if you suspect your veterinarian has committed malpractice?

You have several different courses of action available to you if you suspect your companion animal was injured or killed due to veterinary malpractice.

    • You can send a complaint to your state veterinary licensing board. State licensing boards have the power to suspend or revoke a veterinarian’s license, although this rarely happens.
    • You may also want to sue the veterinarian in a court of law.
    • A lawyer can negotiate a settlement or bring a lawsuit. Please see our page on the Stages of a Civil Trial for more.
    • Another option is pursuing your case in small claims court.
      • The advantages of small claims court is that you do not need a lawyer — in some states you are in fact prohibited from bringing a lawyer to small claims court — and the cases move much more quickly than in other courts.
      • However, the amount of money you can receive in small claims court will be smaller than in other courts.

What are you likely to recover if you are successful in a veterinary malpractice lawsuit?

Historically, recoveries for veterinary malpractice claims have been low, but that is beginning to change.

      • Under current law, an animal is viewed as an item of personal property and some courts limit recovery to the cost of replacing the companion animal with another animal.
      • Some courts are coming to recognize that a companion animal is unique and cannot simply be replaced. These courts are beginning to permit larger recoveries that take into account an animal’s intrinsic value, not just their economic value.

Your lawyer can best advise you as to pursuing a lawsuit against a veterinarian.


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