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A malpractice doctrine


In the interim, as veterinary prices rise, so too will legal scrutiny when faced with malpractice.

"In the next 10 years, there are going to be people who are in a position to pay really large sums of money to save their animals. That seems to be the trend. If someone is spending $20,000 on a cancer case, for example, yet the veterinarian chose not to use chemotherapy but saline solution instead, what should the remedy be?

"If there is a political will to approach a problem, I think there are always reasonable ways to solve it," Gislason adds.

"I have had so many people sit in my office with terrible stories" — from animals that have sustained third-degree burns because warming blankets were left on to the absolute disregard of use of pain medications.

"There is a real indignation for anyone who loses an animal from a malpractice case. And it bothers the lawyers who are hearing these stories over and over again. I have been one of them."

Legal status of animals

Yet, the legal issues surrounding animals extend far beyond malpractice. The transfer of ownership is one example.

More complicated cases involving breeders are emerging, including contracts calling for co-ownership.

If an animal becomes valuable in the show circuit or entertainment arena, breeders want to retain partial ownership. On the flip side, what about unwanted animals that are abandoned at veterinary practices? At what point is ownership transferred?

"It is very unclear when the magic moment comes when title passes. It even gets more confusing when it comes to breeders. Many of them have very complicated contracts when it comes to co-ownership. I have seen nightmare cases with show dogs," Gislason explains.

The welfare of the animal needs to factor into the decision-making process.

"That is an area that interests me. I know people get all bent out of shape regarding property designation. Why can't you go further in regard to living property to think about moral issues like right and wrong?" she says.

"If judges forgot to think about the fact that animals are property and looked at them like a family pet, they are going to consider the best interests of the animal. Who gets title? Is this a premarital dog? Never mind that the premarital owner kicked that dog every day. That is the kind of problem we are having in our culture."

Good Samaritan

When it comes to legally protecting veterinarians for helping animals as Good Samaritans, Gislason is a staunch ally.

In most states, the Good-Samaritan role offered to physicians hasn't been extended to veterinarians, which was exemplified in animal rescue following Hurricane Katrina.

"As strong as I feel about the valuation side, I have been the strongest advocate for veterinarians in an emergency context."

One example, Gislason cites, is the inclusion veterinarians as Good Samaritans in model legislation from the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws, a group that counsels state lawmakers and offers non-partisan legislation to bring clarity to critical areas of the law.

"I want veterinarians to feel good about these laws so they want to respond as first responders. It's good for them and good for the animals."


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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