Facing the uncertain future
The Medlen case is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to courts allowing new causes of action and recovery for veterinary malpractice.
That case involved the negligent causing of a dog's painless death and the pain and suffering of the owner resulting from
the owner's loss of companionship with that dog.
There are other ways to modify the law of monetary recovery in animal cases. What about malpractice or other negligence that
does result in pain and suffering for the patient? Current law specifically provides for such damages to be awarded in human-medicine
Former insurance attorneys (I'm one) are well aware of what happens when damages expand: The quantity and size of settlement
offers expand. Insurance companies, faced with high potential legal fees and costs of depositions and pretrial discovery,
tend to encourage insured doctors to agree to a settlement offer. When potential jury verdict amounts rise above the coverage
limits of doctors' malpractice policies, doctors have a strong incentive to settle (even when they don't feel they did anything
More settlements mean higher malpractice premiums. Potentially much higher.
What veterinarians can do
One way for veterinarians to become more involved in the debate over non-economic damages in animal cases would be for more
of us to run for political office. But there are other ways.
We should implore our local and state veterinary societies to take a position regarding this issue. We need to insist that
they keep us apprised of legal developments. The damages issue is important to the legal profession, and it should be no less
important to us.
Of course, there's no right or wrong answer on the law for noneconomic damages for animal injury and death. Many veterinarians
believe that some damages for pain and suffering for animals should be available. I'm not against allowing such awards myself.
But they shouldn't be unlimited, and they shouldn't be enacted by anyone other than a legislative body.
We veterinarians can't afford to ignore this issue. We shouldn't let the world drag us along and let all the decisions be
made by others without our input.
Dr. Allen is president of the Associates in Veterinary Law P.C., which provides legal and consulting services to veterinarians.
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