Death or Injury to Companion Animal

If someone has injured or killed your animal companion, you may be entitled to damages—regardless of whether the animal was injured or killed purposefully or accidentally—so long as the conduct was at least negligent. When an animal is injured or killed, you are generally entitled to compensation for the “market value” of the animal, veterinary bills and possibly punitive damages, mental anguish, and loss of companionship. What compensation is available depends entirely on the facts and circumstances of each case, and differs significantly from state to state.

~ The information above was taken, in part, from the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

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Veterinary Malpractice

According to a USA Today article, courts are bucking centuries of legal decisions that have defined pets as property.  As is the case described in the article, courts have begun to take veterinary malpractice seriously.

Veterinarians are heroes.  They save the lives of animals, they make their livelihood striving to help injured or sick animals regain their health and they work to keep healthy animals well. Veterinarians in Colorado have also been instrumental in key legislation related to animal anti-cruelty laws. We trust our veterinarian and owe much gratitude to the veterinary profession. When we bring our beloved animals to a veterinarian, we trust they are professional, competent, and of course, practice in accordance with the accepted standard level of care owed to our animals and required by law. A trip to the veterinarian’s office is not unlike a trip to the pediatrician.

Unfortunately, some animals do suffer misdiagnosis, inappropriate treatment, incompetence, and/or care below the acceptable standard during their visit to the veterinarian. When this happens, an attorney can help you determine the best next steps for you to take.

Here in Colorado, veterinarians are regulated by the State Board of Veterinary Medicine. Prior to seeking remedies in a Colorado court though, the Board has the authority to hear the matter and render a decision. Among other issues, the Board may hear matters related to incompetence, negligence, or other malpractice in the practice of veterinary medicine. The Board will likely conduct an investigation and may hold a hearing which could end in disciplinary action, suspension, or revocation of a veterinarian’s license to practice. Note that the statute of limitations on actions brought against veterinarians in Colorado is two years from the time the action accrues. If you believe you have a dispute with a public or state entity you are also required to properly notify the designated authority of your intent to sue within 180 days.

Typically, what must be proved in a malpractice or related action is that the veterinarian was under a duty of care toward the animal, that the level of care was below the standard normally acceptable by other professionals in that same field (often called a letter of certification which you must obtain from another vet or vet specialist), that the substandard care was the reason for the injury, and as a result, the injury to the animal resulted in damage to you, the caretaker.

Legal Update

On July 1, 2007, it became mandatory for Colorado veterinarians to report animal cruelty and animal fighting. The new law states that if a veterinarian suspects that s/he is treating an animal that has been subjected to cruelty or animal fighting, it must be reported to the appropriate authorities. The veterinarian is protected by law if the report is made in good faith.

~CACVT Issue Briefing: Mandatory Reporting, December 2007

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