IN LOVING MEMORY OF RAJAH

OF YOU ONLY GOD CARES MORE THAN I

The Veterinarians Oath -- AVMA

Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of livestock resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge. I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics. I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.

Veterinarian's Oath -- Adopted by the AVMA July 1969

 

Pennsylvania Code

CHAPTER 31. STATE BOARD OF VETERINARY MEDICINE GENERAL PROVISIONS

§ 31.21. Rules of Professional Conduct for Veterinarians.

Principle 1. Competency.

(b) Veterinarians should seek, through consultation, the assistance of other Veterinarians or other licensed professionals when it appears that the quality of veterinary service may be enhanced through consultation.

Principle 2. Professional responsibility.

(a) The principle objectives of the veterinary profession are to render service to society, to conserve livestock resources and to prevent and relieve suffering of animals. Veterinarians should conduct themselves in relation to the public, their colleagues and the allied professions so as to merit their full confidence and respect.

Principle 7. Veterinarian/client relationships.

(a) Veterinarians may choose whom they will serve. Once they have undertaken the care of an animal, however, they may not neglect the animal.

(d) Veterinarians shall be fully responsible for their actions with respect to an animal from the time they accept the case until the animal is released from their care.

(e) In the choice of drugs, biologics or other treatments, veterinarians should use their professional judgment in the interests of the animal, based upon their knowledge of the condition, the probable effects of the treatment and the available scientific evidence, which may affect these decisions.

Veterinarian Malpractice

David S. Favre

Michigan State University - Detroit College of Law

Place of Publication: Michigan State University - Detroit College of Law

A. Introduction

Given the number of animal veterinary interactions that occur on a daily basis, and given the reality that not all these interactions have a successful outcome, the possibility of lawsuits is always present. One factor that has kept the number of lawsuits at a minimum level in the past is the low amount of damages awarded for the injury to animals. The financial consequences of these lawsuits is becoming more expensive for veterinarians and their insurance companies. Whereas in the 1970's the financial cost of malpractice tended to be no more that the market value of the animal, in the mid-1990's lawsuits often settled at the $5,000- $10,000 level. (The 1995 California case of Rappaport v. McElroy (LA Municipal Court) reached an out-of-court settlement of $15,000 with the insurance company for the death of a cat after a veterinarian treated the cats fleas with a toxic product.) It is expected that as the value of animals increases within the context of the legal system, the number of lawsuits filed will tend upward.

Malpractice as a standard of legal liability applies only to professionals. Veterinarians are now accepted as one of those categories subject to this standard of care. Who is a veterinarian is a question easily answered as a state license is required. What if a farmer down the road, with 30 years experience in raising hogs or horses gives advice that turns out to be wrong? As he is not a veterinarian, the farmer can not be held to a standard of malpractice. However, anyone, including the farmer next door, is subject to the constraints of a tort law concept such as negligence. Categories that are in-between might be animal psychiatrists or animal behaviorist. To the extent that they rely upon formal training, hold themselves out as having expertise not possessed by the general public and charge a fee for their service, animal psychiatrists approach the status of professionals. However, they are not licensed, as such, by the various states. A court will have to decide whether to impose the obligations and limitations of the standards of legal malpractice upon them. For purposes of this article, it is presumed that the actor is a licensed veterinarian.

B. Summary of Potential Legal Actions

Veterinarians by the nature of their occupation deal with animals on a daily basis and in a variety of contexts. The core of their activities relate to the providing of professional services, which are usually performed to the satisfaction of both the animal and his or her owner. But, invariably some of the interactions do not have the desired outcome. As the following list suggest, the veterinarians who have been defendants in lawsuits find themselves confronted with a wide variety of legal claims:

Malpractice. Discussed in full below.

Res ipsa loquitur. This is an important alternative cause of action against a veterinarian, as an expert witness is not needed. Some mistakes are so obvious that the average person (the jury) can make an informed judgment without an expert witness.  

Administrative Action for Malpractice. A person may file an action against a veterinarian with the state administrative licensing board that oversees veterinarians.

Negligence. As discussion below, if the actions in question are not within the realm of malpractice, then there may be legal liability based on common negligence. For example, if a veterinarian was overseeing the loading of a horse into a trailer and did not properly secure the horse, the standard of care is that of negligence.

Gross negligence.  This is the more egregious form of a claim of negligence. If an animal came in for a treatment for fleas, and the veterinarian removed a leg, that would be gross negligence. A claim of gross negligence may support different kinds of damage awards, such as punitive damages or emotional distress for the owner.

Intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress (on the owner). This may arise when the actions (against an animal) are intentional and likely to produce a strong reaction in the owner. This is an action in torts which is explained further in the Pet Damages discussion.

Duties of bailee. When a veterinarian acts as a bailee of an animal (for example when he or she boards pets), then legal liability may arise either out of negligent care of the animal or failure to redeliver the animal to the owner. In one case, an insured veterinarian was bailee of an elephant, who died from poison while in his custody. While his negligence in allowing the animal near poison would normally give rise to liability, the bailor and bailee had signed a release which held the bailee "harmless from any liability in the event of the death of the elephant 'Sparkle.'" A claim based upon a bailment does not require an expert witness and may have the effect of placing the burden of proof upon the veterinarian to explain what happened to the animal.

Violation of a contract obligation. This may be a useful approach if there is a written contract. However, oral agreements may also constitute a contract. The normal conversation with a veterinarian before rendering services would not constitute an oral contract. A contract claim can not be based on general statements of reassurance, "I'm sure Fluffy will be better after the operation." Rather, it must be a specific promise to do something or obtain a specific result. In a contracts action, the promise in the contract becomes the standard for conduct, not the general standard of veterinarian care appropriate to the community. There may be a difference in the statute of limitations for filing a contract action (longer) verse tort or malpractice action.

Deceptive trade practices. However, professional services are often specifically excluded in the statutes that create the cause of action.

Taking. This may occur when the actions of an agent of the State result in the death of an animal. Only one case has been found to support such a cause of action. It first requires that the veterinarian be an employee of the State. Secondly, because of some state policy the injury to the animal occurred.

C. Malpractice Distinguished

At common law, and even prior to World War II in the United States, legal claims based upon malpractice did not apply to veterinarians (just doctors and lawyers). The 1936 edition of the legal digest, CJS, has 289 pages of information about animal legal issues but the term "veterinarian" and "malpractice" does not occur anywhere in the material. Since that time, there has been an expansion of the application of the concepts of malpractice to include veterinarians. This has been done by judicial rule and by the adoption of new legislation. In understanding the scope of a claim based on malpractice, it must first be distinguished from an action based upon negligence. An action is properly based in malpractice if the acts or omissions at issue involve matters of medical science or require special skills not ordinarily possessed by lay people. When an injury occurs as a result of something that would be considered within the professional knowledge of the individual who holds him or herself out as a veterinarian, the legal cause of action will be classified as one based in malpractice. Some state law provides help in discerning which issues are professional by listing those actions for which an individual must have a state issued veterinarian license.

When a veterinarian is acting in other than his or her professional capacity, the normal negligence standard is used. For example, if a veterinarian performs surgery on a horse, the surgery shall be judged under malpractice standards, but if a veterinarian is arranging for the transportation of a horse by trailer, the reasonable person standard applies, since the activity is not within the bounds of his professional knowledge or skill. Likewise, if a veterinarian provides boarding facilities for healthy animals, then he or she would be judged under the same negligence standard as would any other bailee of an animal. Sometimes humans are injured in the offices of veterinarian. In one case, an injury to a worker in a human society shelter was found not to support an action in malpractice. As a veterinarian has a professional duty only to his or her animal patients, an action for injury to a human will be based upon negligence not malpractice. In another case, the court held that the disposing of an animal's body was not within professional standards and therefore only an action in negligence might be supported by the facts.

D. Malpractice Generally

For a plaintiff (animal owner) to recover damages for injury to an animal, in an action based on malpractice, all the following elements must be proven by the plaintiff:

(1) The defendant was under a duty of care toward the animal in question. The veterinarian had accepted the responsibility to treat the animal.

(2) The actions or nonactions of the veterinarian did not conform to the professional standard of conduct.

(3) The failure to conform to the professional standard was the proximate cause of the injury or harm at issue.

(4) The injury or harm resulted in damages to the plaintiff (not just the animal in question.

Veterinarians are under no legal duty to treat an ill or injured animal. The decision whether or not to provide a service is an individual decision. A decision to not provide treatment is not malpractice. One case suggests, however, that professional ethics may require some level of attention in emergency situations, but this does not give rise to a legal cause of action. Once the decision to treat an animal is made, the veterinarian has a duty to continue to treat or at least inform the owner of his or her decision to stop treatment of the animal in question.

E. Determining the Standard of Treatment

A veterinary surgeon impliedly engages and is bound to use, in the performance of his duties in his employment, such reasonable skill, diligence and attention as may be ordinarily expected of persons in that profession....He did not undertake to perform a cure.

Barney v. Pinkham, 45 NW 694 (NE 1890).

The recent cases dealing with injury to animals by veterinarians based on malpractice draw upon the parallel problems and concepts developed in the judging of the conduct of other professions (doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc.). If a jurisdiction has few or no cases dealing with veterinary malpractice, the case opinions arising out of more extensive litigation based doctor/human malpractice is an appropriate alternative source of legal principles.

While jurisdictions may have some variation in words or phrases, a general statement of the legal standard for veterinary practice is: "the exercise of the care and diligence as is ordinarily exercised by skilled veterinarians."

Another Court stated the standard as "the standard of care required of and practiced by the average reasonably prudent, competent veterinarian in the community." The standard does not make the veterinarian an insurer of the recovery of an animal. Moreover, the existence of an injury or a death after treatment does not give rise to a presumption of malpractice. In one case a court used the following precept: "nor does the legal standard set the threshold for liability at a particularly high level. The average or normal practitioner, not the best or most highly skilled, sets the standard." The plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant did not satisfy the legal standard. Since a lay person is unqualified to testify as to the proper exercise of judgment and skill, the testimony must be given by an expert, normally another veterinarian. One case noted that not only must the witness qualify generally as an expert on animal care, but for the particular issues before the court as well. In another case, the plaintiff was unable to meet his burden of proof since no experts testified on his behalf.

However, see §8.8, which sets out the exception to the requirement for an expert. An important limitation on the application of the legal standard for veterinary practice is that of geographical setting. Some jurisdictions seek to limit the scope of the standard to comparisons on a local level. Three geographic variations have appeared in veterinary cases. Utah and Louisiana qualify their standard with the phrase "in the community." Iowa has rejected the "in the community" qualification, stating that location is but one factor for the jury to consider. North Carolina and Tennessee have taken a middle ground with the phrase "similarly situated" -- "It envisions a standard of professional competence and care customary in the field of practice among practitioners in similar communities which, in turn, suggests a consideration of such factors as the nature of the treatment involved; the degree of specialization, if any, required; the character of the community concerned; and the comparability of medical facilities available." It is reasonable to expect that whatever rule a jurisdiction adopted for medical malpractice would also apply to veterinarian malpractice. In the case of an individual who holds him or herself out as an expert in a particular area, such as horses, then the standard of care will be statewide if not national. The appropriate standard may be set by state statute.

There are two policy considerations that support a general standard of nationwide or at least statewide scope, making the location of the events but one factor to be considered. First, as a practical matter, it is often difficult for the plaintiff to get local veterinarians to testify against other members of the profession whom they may personally know. Yet, if a "within the community" standard is adopted, then only local veterinarians would qualify as expert witnesses. To make it practical for plaintiffs to prove their cases, use of experts outside the community should be allowed. Secondly, a standard without geographic limitations is in the public interest, for it would promote higher levels of competence within the profession, and therefore better care and treatment for animals. The "in the community" limitations aids primarily the small town or rural practitioner, who historically has less access to new ideas and information than the urban practitioners. While there might have been reasons to tolerate this differing standard in the past, it is no longer justifiable to expect any less from a small-town veterinarian than from an urban veterinarian. With increased emphasis by all professions in continuing (post-degree) education, and with recent developments in communication and data-transfer facilities, everyone who seeks the aid of a professional ought to expect a more or less uniform standard within the entire state. One factor that would qualify such an expectation, however, is access to advanced equipment that may be available only in limited areas within a state (such as the teaching centers).

1. Expert Testimony

The first question to be faced is who can qualify as an expert witness to offer an opinion about the facts in question. It is clear that a nonprofessional, no matter how long familiar with the issues, is not an expert. The neighbor is not. Nor is the horse trainer capable of testifying as to bone X-rays and medical records. If the defendant veterinarian is an expert in a field, such as race horses, then the expert witness must also have qualifications as an expert in the same field. If the jurisdiction of the lawsuit has a community-based standard, then the expert must have actual knowledge of the veterinary practice in the community in question.

Once an expert is qualified and the geographic scope of the standard is settled, then the role of the plaintiff's expert witness is to judge the conduct of the defendant veterinarian. The veterinarian likewise can have experts testify as to the issue of whether the conduct in question was within the legal standards. The expert witness must state whether or not, in his or her judgment, the actions of the defendant, as proposed by a lawyer in a hypothetical fact situation, show the exercise of the care and diligence as ordinarily exercised by skilled veterinarians. Statements by the plaintiff's expert that the treatment was not what he would have done in like circumstances is not sufficient to support a claim of malpractice. In one case, suggesting inadequate trial preparation by the attorney, the plaintiff's expert agreed with the treatment given by the defendant veterinarian. In one case, the defendant performed a castration upon a quarter horse. Significant swelling developed, which the defendant preferred to treat by exercising the horse. Within a week the horse died. The plaintiff's expert witness testified that the defendant's treatment was contrary to accepted medical practice, that since the swelling had not been reduced in 24 hours, corticosteroids and antibiotics should have been administered.

F. Scope of Professional Responsibility

The extent of a veterinarian's professional responsibility is an important issue. It is only when the veterinarian is carrying out or ought to carry out his or her professional responsibilities that the professional standard of care applies. The professional duty of a veterinarian usually begins with obtaining a history of the animal, followed by a physical examination. The veterinarian is required to use professional leaning, skill, and care, beginning with the initial contact with the animal, through the diagnosis of the problem, the decision and execution of treatment and the necessary follow-up care. Having the history, it is expected that the veterinarian will act accordingly. This was exemplified in a case where the claim was that the veterinarian knew that a dog had allergic reactions to vaccines, but forgot and gave one that killed the dog.

Throughout this process, there is a duty to keep the owner informed and obtain the necessary consent for the suggested treatment. In obtaining permission for treatment, there should be disclosure of the risk of the treatment or drugs. However, in one case where a horse died within fifteen minutes of being injected with a drug, the court held that there was no duty to disclose or warn when the odds of a lethal out come were 1 in 25,000.

In Brockett v. Abbe, a veterinarian was requested to determine whether or not a cow was pregnant. He used a "punch" test rather than a rectal test, which was recognized as the only reliable means of determining pregnancy. As a result, he mistakenly told the owner that the cow was not pregnant, and the owner sold the cow for $170, rather than the $550 price obtainable for a cow with calf.

The issue was not whether the method of exam was done properly, but whether the appropriate test was used. In another case, the court noted the difficulty in diagnosing distemper in dogs, and with the plaintiff's expert admitting that the defendant showed the appropriate level of skill, there was no malpractice even though distemper was not diagnosed.

Once the veterinarian has made the diagnosis, then the issue of appropriate treatment must be met. If the treatment or service is medication or inoculation, he or she is under a duty to prescribe an appropriate medication and dosage. In Ruden v. Hansen, the farmer's sows needed to be vaccinated against cholera to allow their sale. Although the defendant knew that they were pregnant, and the directions on the medicine container warned against use on pregnant sows, he gave them a modified live cholera vaccine. As a result, the 67 gilts had only 80 piglets survive until weaning time (over 500 would be expected under normal conditions). The defendant was found guilty of malpractice.

In an Oklahoma case, the nature of the treatment was proper, but the solution was improperly mixed. Plaintiff brought in four dogs with skin problems to defendant. Shortly after they were dipped in a mixture of lye, sulphur, and P & G soap they all died. The plaintiff's expert testified the lye was too strong, that he routinely used only one-sixth the amount the defendant used. The jury's verdict against defendant was upheld. Finally, in a South Dakota case, the malpractice at issue was neither the medicine nor the mixing of the medicine but the administering of the drug. Plaintiff's experts testified that when sheep are treated with the liquid in question and it is improperly administered, fluid passes into the lungs and causes strangulation and almost certain death.

In two situations, the standard will not be limited by the above requirements. If the veterinarian makes explicit promises about what he or she will do, then he or she may be held liable for not fulfilling the promises, even though his or her actions would not constitute malpractice. Obviously, most veterinarians do not guarantee the cure of animals they treat, and the plaintiff would have the burden of showing such a promise or guarantee was made. A second deviation from the norm is when the veterinarian holds him or herself out as a specialist in a particular area. The public could rightfully expect a higher degree of knowledge and skill from an individual who holds him or herself out as an expert on a particular species of animal. In such a case, the standard for liability would not be veterinarians generally, but those who profess a similar specialty.

G. Proximate Cause

As with all tort actions, the veterinarian's malpractice must be shown to be the proximate cause of the injury. In the cases discussed in the prior section, the action of the individual clearly resulted in the harm to the animal. Proximate cause differs in that the causation is often less obvious. In one case, a race horse had been destroyed because it had become bad tempered and uncontrollable. Previously, the defendant veterinarian had performed surgery on the horse's leg and then had made transportation arrangements. The court pointed out that many factors may have led to the horse's mental deterioration, and that the plaintiff had not shown how the actions of the defendant, particularly the surgery, were the proximate cause of the deterioration of the horse.

The court defined proximate cause as "the active and efficient cause that sets in motion a train of events which brings about the result without intervention of any force started and working actively from a new or different and independent source."

1. The Alternative of Res Ipsa Loquitur

Sometimes the action of the veterinarian is so obviously wrong that an expert is not needed to show malpractice. A court may allow a jury to make a judgment based upon the "common knowledge" of the community, or may apply the concept of "res ipsa loquitur."

For example, in one case the veterinarian operated on the wrong horse. In another a veterinarian left a needle in the neck of a horse and left the horse to do another task. The court stated, "moreover, where the very nature of the acts complained of bespeaks improper treatment and malpractice" a prima facie case may be established without the necessity of offering expert evidence to that effect. In both cases, the expert testimony of another veterinarian was not necessary for the jury to find a violation of the law. But, when the issue before the court concerned the application of anesthetics to an animal, the court did not allow res ipsa loquitur to apply, as the understanding of such issues are not in the common knowledge of a layman. While normally a common law concept, it can be authorized by statute.

H. Defenses to Action of Malpractice

1. Statues of Limitations

One very important procedural point may arise when the basis for a filed lawsuit is classified as malpractice. The law requires that the legal action be initiated within a certain period of time following the events in question. This is called a statute of limitations. If the period of time set out in a state's statutes as a time limitation is passed without the lawsuit being filed, then no legal action may be taken, regardless of the seriousness or obvious wrong doing that might be involved. Any attempt to do so will result in the judge dismissing the suit without hearing the merits of the claim.

The statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit because of the injury or destruction of an animal would normally be governed by the general statute of limitations for injury to personal property. If the legal action is classified as one based upon malpractice, then a different statute of limitations may apply. For example, in Michigan there is a 3-year statute of limitations for injury to property and a 2-year limitation for malpractice actions. Consider the three different time limits under Ohio law. For actions based upon unwritten contracts, R.C. 2305.07 provides: An action upon a contract not in writing, express or implied, or upon a liability created by statute other than a forfeiture or penalty, shall be brought within six years after the cause thereof accrued.

The limitation for general tort actions is stated in R.C. 2305.10 which provides: An action for bodily injury or injuring personal property shall be brought within two years after the cause thereof arose. Finally, R.C. 2305.11

(A) provides in pertinent part:

... An action for malpractice other than an action upon a medical, dental, optometric, or chiropractic claim, or an action upon a statute for a penalty or forfeiture shall be commenced within one year after the cause of action accrued

....Ohio follows the general pattern of giving malpractice suits a shorter statute of limitations for lawsuits to be being filed.

One possible point of confusion is that some statutes refer to "malpractice" actions without defining the term or listing which groups of individuals are within its scope. Faced with this problem, an Ohio court had difficulty in holding that veterinary medicine fell within the undefined term since it was not historically considered a professional occupation subject to malpractice claims. In the case referred to, if the malpractice statute of limitations had been used then the court would have be forced to dismiss the case. Instead, they allow the two-year limitation to apply.

2. Good Samaritan

There is one situation where a veterinarian may not be held to the normal standard of practice. This arises in the case of the "Good Samaritan," where a veterinarian renders emergency treatment to a sick or injured animal at the scene of an accident. By statute, in a few states, the veterinarian would not be liable to the owner for damages in the absence of gross negligence.

I. Revocation of License to Practice

Besides legal liability, veterinarians have obligations to their professional organization and to the state, through its licensing board, for maintaining certain levels of professional conduct. If, because of lack of monetary damages or other legal problems, an animal owner is unable to obtain satisfaction through the courts for a grievance against a veterinarian, (or in addition to any civil lawsuit) he or she can pursue the issue with the state licensing board or file a grievance with a professional organization of which the veterinarian is a member.

Most statutes that provide for the professional licensing of veterinarians also provide for the revocation or non-renewal of the license for stated reasons. The statutes fall into two general categories. The first type lists the standard for revocation specifically in the statute:

fraudulent deception or incompetence in the practice of veterinary medicine (California)

incompetence, gross negligence or other malpractice in the practice of veterinary medicine (Idaho and Mississippi).

Other states give the licensing board the authority to pass regulations governing the practice of veterinary medicine. A license can be revoked for violation of these standards of professional conduct (Texas and Virginia).

In one New Jersey case, the standard for action against the veterinarian by the Board was "grossly neglectful actions or gross malpractice." This standard would not be broken by simple malpractice. The action would have to be much more serious, on the level of gross negligence, before administrative action could be justified. In an Oregon case, a veterinarian had claimed that he had performed surgery on a dog. After the dog's death an autopsy revealed none had been done. The court felt the Board was justified in permanently revoking the defendant's right to practice. Finally, in a New Mexico case, a veterinarian's license was suspended for six months due to the following complaints:

failure to communicate with owners of animals.

failure to inform animal owners of actual conditions of animals.

failure to inform owners of deaths of animals under his care.

failure to administer timely treatment.

improper record controls on animals.

failure to maintain clean and sanitary conditions.

lack of proper control over animals.

misrepresentation to the public that one of the

members of his staff was a doctor of veterinary medicine.

While the filing of complaints with state and professional organizations will give no damages or relief to the animal owner (or the animal), it does act as a check on the general level of practice of a particular veterinarian, an may be the only realistic option that an aggrieved individual may possess.

 

Grooming Accidents

Animals have been seriously injured or killed at grooming salons. Some suffer from heat exhaustion as a result of being left unattended in front of dryers, and others are the victims of other types of neglect. In 2002, a chow was hanged to death at a Utah PETCO store when, left alone, she tried to jump out of a grooming tub.

The best way to prevent accidents is by taking precautions and doing research. If you must leave your companion animal at a grooming salon, do the following things to ensure his or her safety:

Check to see whether the groomer you are considering is a member of any trade organizations. Although groomers are not required to be licensed, association with groups like the National Dog Groomers Association often indicates professionalism. Evidence of participation in industry seminars is also a good sign.

Find a groomer with experience. Groomers who have many years of experience in working with animals will be more confident in their skills and limitations and should be more comfortable with animal behavior. Any reputable grooming salon should have at least one veteran groomer on staff.

Request references from other clients.

Consider a groomer who makes house calls so that both your animal companion and the groomer are under your supervision.

Another option is to learn how to groom your animal friend yourself. Regular bathing, brushing, and clipping help you to build rapport and trust with your animal companion while keeping him or her looking and feeling healthy.

You can help prevent grooming accidents by contacting your local and state representatives and pushing for stronger regulations on the grooming industry. Laws that require that groomers use only dryers that must be reset after a period of time rather than those that reset without a break, laws that set time limits on tethering and standards on the types of tethers that may be used, and laws that prohibit the use of sedatives or tranquilizers are the type of legislation that can save lives and prevent tragic accidents.

If your animal becomes injured at a grooming salon, you can file a small claims suit or lawsuit against the groomer or salon, and remember that a story about your animal’s injuries on a local television station or in the newspaper can help prevent future tragedies. Public awareness is a powerful tool.

 

Compensatory Values for Animals Beyond Their Property Value

(Approved by the Executive Board May 2003; revised by the Executive Board April 2005, November 2005) The American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes and supports the legal concept of animals as property. However, the AVMA recognizes that some animals have value to their owners that may exceed the animal's market value. In determining the real monetary value of the animal, the AVMA believes the purchase price, age and health of the animal, breeding status, pedigree, special training, veterinary expenses for the care of the animal's injury or sickness, related to the incident in question, and any particular economic utility the animal has to the owner should be considered. Any extension of available remedies beyond economic damages would be inappropriate and ultimately harm animals. Therefore, the AVMA opposes the potential recovery of non-economic damages.

American Veterinary Medical Association Copyright © 2007

 

Jim Wilson, who is a veterinarian and a lawyer, says, "On a whole, veterinarians don't grasp the importance of these issues as they relate to the changing status of animals. The result is most still think of animals as nothing more than property when society's moving to anthropomorphize them."

State laws have also changed over the last few years as a result of campaigning by animal advocates. Now, statutes in many states provide broader legal protection for animals than before, with more than 40 states classifying animal cruelty as a felony, and 18 states making animal abandonment a crime. In some states, judges have allowed lawsuits relating to emotional damage due to the loss of a companion animal to go through the court system. In 2000, Tennessee became the first state to grant animal guardians rights to pain and suffering damages as well as punitive damages related to the loss of a companion animal. Illinois passed a similar law last year and similar bills are before the legislatures of New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

There is also disagreement within the veterinary profession on changing the designation of those with companion animals from "owners" to "guardians."

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