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Drug abuse poses a load of liability problems
An insiders test about legal ramifications of drug abuse in the workplace


Failure to check credentials

While there is no obligation in the law to spot and avoid every fraud perpetrated by another person, there is a requirement to take reasonable care to prevent dangerous errors in this situation. Dr. Bill neglected to do any sort of background check on Don when he was hired. A simple Internet search or phone call to the state licensing authority would have turned up the fake LVT credentials.

The failure of Dr. Bill to identify Don's lack of an LVT license as well as (and more importantly) the fraud carried out by a person who eventually was to be trusted with controlled substances make a great case for actionable negligence. Don't just assume licensed individuals are set to work when they are hired; trust but verify.

There are technicians applying for jobs whose licenses have been revoked. There are veterinarians available for hire who haven't actually taken the boards in the state where they are applying. I know there are docs running around who've let their state licenses lapse and are therefore unqualified to practice. I know because years ago I had one working for me. I have since wised up.

Ignoring employees' drug-abuse warnings

In the fact pattern there are only a couple of innocent parties—and one is Amy. When she reported her concerns regarding the disappearance of drugs to her employer, Bill was duty-bound to carry out at least some type of investigation. If an investigation had turned up a problem, the subsequent allegation of negligence would be far weaker.

If an investigation had turned up no proof because of Don's refusal to admit that he never really counted the pills, the allegation that "reasonable" control had not been exercised would still be weak. The law doesn't require omniscience, only reasonableness. Dr. Bill is not expected to be able to see through lies without some tangible evidence that lies were told.

Controlled drug back-up system

It is best to have a licensed veterinary technician be responsible for controlled drug inventory but not essential. In any event, it is an excellent strategy for the DEA license-holder to either switch medicine-counters periodically, or have a second person periodically monitor the inventory-taking process. In our example, Dr. Bill could have identified the problem of missing drug supplies by simply having Amy re-check Don's work every so often.

In the meantime, has anyone been wondering what effect Dr. Carl's wife's immigration status would have had on the pending personal-injury verdict? Once the DEA arrived on the premises of Blackacre Veterinary P.C. to investigate the disappearance of the controlled drugs, an investigation of both veterinarians, Bill and Carl ensued. They wanted to know whether Carl just liked to use the meds or perhaps had developed a retail outlet.

When the agents checked out Carl's associations, they were especially interested in his widow's foreign accent. Mrs. Carl's illegal status was uncovered immediately and reported to Homeland Security. The estate's ability to defend the personal injury action was dramatically impeded after Mrs. Carl (the executrix named in Carl's will) was deported to Panama. After that, the battle to replace her as executrix and the legal fees to defend the lawsuit ate up all the money in legal fees. The end.

In a few months in this column, I will address another related workplace problem: Use and suspected use of drugs in the workplace itself. The legal issues are myriad, including workers' compensation complications, malpractice and vicarious malpractice allegations, and potentially discriminatory drug-testing policies.

Dr. Allen is president of the Associates in Veterinary Law P.C., which provides legal and consulting services to veterinarians. Call (607) 754-1510 or email

For a complete list of articles by Dr. Allen, visit http://dvm360.com/allen


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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