Is it worth filing a lawsuit for injury to your pet, or could there be another solution?
You love your pet, and if they’ve been injured because of a veterinarian’s malpractice, you rightfully want justice. Here’s the law in Colorado for what damages you can recover.
You don’t have to be someone who refers to their pets as “furbabies” to love your pets. A lot.
Whether it’s a dog, cat, bird, exotic reptile, guinea pig, or some other lovebug in your life, if you’re a pet parent, you know that their care and well-being is very important to you. They can’t speak for themselves, which makes it difficult to know how they feel or what they’re experiencing.
That’s why most pet owners seek a trusted veterinarian who they know has their pet’s best interests in mind. But veterinarians, like doctors for humans, are people, too. They make mistakes.
You probably know that if your doctor makes a mistake that negatively affects your health, you might be able to make a claim for medical malpractice. But what if your veterinarian makes a mistake? Do animals have rights like people do?
What is veterinary malpractice?
Like medical malpractice for humans, veterinary malpractice relates to negligent behavior of a veterinary professional that results in harm or injury to an animal under their care.
A veterinarian is expected to meet an accepted standard of care with respect to the treatment they provide to animals.
Similar to human doctors, veterinary malpractice can include:
- Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose a condition
- Administering incorrect medication or incorrect dosing
- Surgical errors
- Improper treatment
- Failure to obtain informed consent (from the pet’s owner)
- Inadequate monitoring during anesthesia
- Neglecting basic veterinary care
What damages can you claim for Colorado veterinary malpractice?
You might treat your pet like a member of your family, but the courts treat your pet as property. It makes sense, really—when a person is injured because of negligence, you can claim damages for your medical treatment, lost wages, and other costs related to your ongoing care and what the injury costs your family.
A plaintiff is entitled to be made whole, which means they are restored to the financial condition they would be in if the accident that caused the injury never happened.
When it’s a pet, it doesn’t make sense to make a claim for lost wages—they don’t earn any. They don’t take care of children, cook dinner, or contribute to the household. So, while your animal companion is worth a lot to you emotionally, the only way the law can compensate you is by allowing an owner to be compensated for the animal’s market value.
In other words, you can recover the amount that it would cost for you to replace your pet at a reasonable, fair market value.
You can also be reimbursed for veterinary expenses related to the malpractice. In some instances, you could be reimbursed for your lost wages for times you might have had to take off from work to take your pet to the vet or deal with their illness or injury.
Is there any other recourse?
Perhaps. A lawsuit can be time-consuming and costly, and the market value of your pet might not be worth the expense. But you can file a claim against a veterinarian with the Colorado Department of Regulartory Agencies. If the agency finds that the veterinarian’s behavior was incorrect, there could be disciplinary action, fines, or their license could be suspended. Your complaint also creates a record that could become important if another person files a complaint against the same vet in the future.
You can also submit a demand letter to the veterinarian’s insurance company to recover financial damages. This is the alternate method of receiving compensation without filing a lawsuit.
How to prove Colorado veterinary malpractice
Veterinary malpractice is proven similarly to how human medical malpractice is proven… through evaluating evidence that the doctor did not follow the accepted standard of care.
The insurance company or court will evaluate:
- Your pet’s veterinary and medical records
- Documentation of phone calls, email or conversations you had with the vet or their staff
- Photographs of your pet’s injuries and test results or other medical documentation
They will retain experts who can testify about what the appropriate treatment for your pet would be if it is different from what actually happened.
What can you do to preserve evidence?
Document, document, document!
Even if you’re at the vet for a routine visit, keep a copy of your pet’s medical records. Ask for a printed copy or an email that summarizes the visit, describes any findings, lists vaccines and medications, and includes any other relevant information.
If your vet provides information over the phone, keep specific notes about what they said, including the date and time of the conversation.
If you believe that there has been malpractice, you should take your pet to another veterinarian to seek their opinion about their condition and treatment. If your pet has died, have a necropsy performed by a veterinarian who is not associated with the vet who you believe committed malpractice.
The next step is to contact a Colorado veterinary malpractice lawyer. Your lawyer will know how to reach experts, discover evidence, and can give you their best advice for how to proceed.