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Can I sue my veterinarian for a missed cancer diagnosis?

Asked by user in Virginia.

I took my dog into the vet for a sprained paw 5 months ago and they tested his liver to make sure it was fine for the pain meds. The doctor's exact words were that his liver is fine, he is perfectly healthy for his age. Two weeks ago, I took him to the same doctor for an upset stomach and he told me my dog has terminal liver cancer and gave him 2-3 weeks to live. I don’t understand how you can tell me my dog is perfectly healthy but miss that he has cancer. Can I sue?

Answered by Enjuris Editors:

I’m very sorry this happened to your dog.

To establish a claim against the veterinarian, you need to prove 3 things:

  1. The veterinarian agreed to treat your dog.
  2. The actions (or inactions) of the veterinarian didn’t conform to the professional standard of conduct. In other words, a reasonable veterinarian would not have done what your veterinarian did.
  3. The failure to conform to the professional standard of conduct was the cause of your animal’s injury. In other words, the harm wouldn’t have occurred but for the veterinarian’s actions (or inactions).

I’m not a vet or doctor, so I don’t know if the veterinarian should have seen that your dog had cancer when he reviewed the blood work during the initial test. In cases like this, the law requires medical experts to testify as to whether or not the veterinarian’s actions were reasonable or negligent.

Keep in mind that, under Virginia law, pets are considered personal property. Therefore, when a pet dies, the owner is usually only entitled to the “fair market value” of the pet. Unfortunately, this makes litigating a case like this cost prohibitive for many people.

Nevertheless, if you wish to pursue a case, I would recommend meeting with an attorney in your area (be sure to take any records you have along with you). Most initial consultations are free and the attorney will be able to review your case more thoroughly and explain your options.

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