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Liability of a Veterinarian for Death or Injury

The practice of veterinary medicine is defined by reference to the diagnosis and treatment of animals, animal conditions and animal diseases[i].  It is to be noted that negligence by a veterinarian in his/her care and treatment of animals will result in liability.

Generally, the liability of a veterinarian is tested by the rules with respect to the ordinary care and the lack thereof, as they are applied to physicians and surgeons.  In other words, with respect to liability of many specialists, rules respecting ordinary care as applied to a layman are not applicable, but the rules of what is ordinary care and the lack thereof as applied to the trained professional are applicable[ii].

Therefore, a veterinary surgeon impliedly engages and is bound to use in the performance of his/her duties in his employment such reasonable skill, diligence, and attention as may be ordinarily expected of persons in that profession.  S/he is not supposed to contract to use the highest degree of skill or an extraordinary amount of diligence[iii].

In order to establish negligence by a veterinarian, it must be shown that the injury was caused by the performance of a particular thing that a veterinarian of ordinary skill, care, and diligence will not perform under like or similar circumstances, or by the failure or omission to do some particular thing that such a veterinarian is expected to perform under like or similar circumstances[iv].  Veterinarian negligence cases are to be analyzed under the same standard applied to physicians and surgeons in medical malpractice cases[v].  A veterinary surgeon who undertakes to treat an animal cannot absolutely escape liability for his/her negligence because of the fact that the treatment is to be gratuitous[vi].

It is to be noted that the vocation of veterinary medicine is similar to the practice of law or medicine.  It involves specialized education, knowledge, and skills.  Therefore, professional negligence concepts also extend to veterinary medicine[vii].  Similarly, a cause of action for professional negligence must be pleaded and proved to recover damages for death or injury occasioned by a veterinarian’s treatment.  In other words, allegations of a breach of a bailment are insufficient to state a cause of action against a veterinarian who has treated an animal which suffers an injury or does not survive the treatment[viii].

It can be seen that veterinarians were held liable for injury or death of animals resulting from inoculations or vaccinations, or for failure to comply with regulations regarding vaccination.  Similarly, a veterinarian who introduces an individual as his/her servant or other agent, thereby causing a third person to rely upon the care or skill of such an agent will be subject to liability to the third person for the harm caused by the lack of such care or skill on the part of the servant or agent[ix].

It is to be noted that if the domestic animals were healthy prior to the administration of a certain remedy to them by a veterinary surgeon, and after such administration such animals die within a short time will make the veterinarian liable for negligence.

[i] Nelson v. State Bd. of Veterinary Med., 863 A.2d 129 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2004).

[ii] Ullmann v. Duffus, 2005 Ohio 6060 (Ohio Ct. App., Franklin County Nov. 15, 2005).

[iii] Barney v. Pinkham, 29 Neb. 350 (Neb. 1890).

[iv] Ullmann v. Duffus, 2005 Ohio 6060 (Ohio Ct. App., Franklin County Nov. 15, 2005).

[v] McGee v. Smith, 107 S.W.3d 725 (Tex. App. Fort Worth 2003).

[vi] Latham v. Elrod, 6 Ala. App. 456 (Ala. Ct. App. 1912).

[vii] Fackler v. Genetzky, 257 Neb. 130 (Neb. 1999).

[viii] Hoffa v. Bimes, 2008 PA Super 181 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2008).

[ix] Beck V. Henkle-Craig Live-Stock Co., 171 N.C. 698 (N.C. 1916).

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