Under Washington State law, animals are considered personal property. However, for many pet owners, myself included, this designation is unfathomable: My pets are my family. My clients feel the same. The grief and pain of losing a pet or seeing one injured often is similar to grief experienced losing a human loved one. I’ve seen my clients grieve their pets like this. It’s haunting.
Veterinary malpractice occurs when an injury to an animal results from an act or omission of a veterinarian. While veterinary malpractice cases are not tracked by the American Veterinary Medical Association, they are a regular part of my practice.
Because animals are property, in most circumstances, an owner who loses his or her pet through veterinary malpractice or negligence in Washington will not be compensated for his or her emotional distress. The pet owner is entitled to recover medical costs and either the fair market value or intrinsic value of the pet if the pet died as a result of the malpractice. The pet has no independent claim for damages.
The best way to protect your pet from veterinary malpractice is prevention. Seek out a qualified well-respected veterinarian through positive online reviews, word-of-mouth, personal referrals etc. You can also search the American Animal Hospital Association website for accredited vets or clinics in your area. An AAHA accreditation means that the facility meets the highest standards of veterinary care. In addition, don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions regarding the care and treatment of your pet, if you ever feel concerned.
If you suspect that your pet may have been a victim of veterinary malpractice, immediately seek out a second or even third opinion from other veterinarians. Be sure to request copies of all medical records, x-rays, signed consent forms, medical bills, etc. Your veterinarian is required by Washington law to keep detailed records and to produce them if you request them. If you feel strongly enough about the potential error caused by your veterinarian, I recommend filing a complaint with the Washington State Veterinarian Board of Governors or your respective state’s veterinarian board. This will bring to attention your issue and be on record in case the vet makes the same mistake more than once.