photo 2006 Stevan Sheets | more info (via: Wylio)
Ever wonder why your vet takes your pet away from you into the back of the hospital for nail trims and treatments? Blame the legal system. The courts have ruled that veterinarians are liable if a pet hurts its owner while the two are located on the premises of a veterinary hospital. I think it’s idiotic but it’s the US tort system so I shouldn’t expect it to make any sense.
The issue is not merely theoretical. Consider the following case from the Winter, 2011 issue of Professional Liability, which is the newsletter of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Professional Liability Insurance Trust.
Cat Bite Infects Owner’s Hand
Dr. G was presented a cat for an annual examination, vaccinations, and a nail trim. The owner advised that the cat responds aggressively to nail trims. Dr. G proceeded with the exam and vaccinations without incident. After Dr. G trimmed a couple of the cat’s nails, the cat became fractious and tried to bite Dr. G. A technician entered the exam room and offered to help. At that point, Dr. G realized that the cat had bit the owner’s hand during the nail trim. Dr. G advised the owner to seek medical attention. The owner visited an immediate care center for treatment. The infection spread up the owner’s hand, and the owner again sought medical treatment. The owner was referred to an orthopedic surgeon and required surgery and hospitalization for four days. Post-surgery, the owner required four weeks of hospitalization.
The owner alleged that Dr. G was responsible for the cat bite and demanded $47,000 for lost wages and medical bills.
Dr. G’s insurance carrier evaluated the liability exposure and determined that it was below the standard of care (emphasis mine) . . . Dr. G consented to settle the case . . . the case closed for a total of $25,480.
I’m not going to come to Dr. G’s defense in this matter. The owner had given him warning about the cat’s temperament, and Dr. G ignored it. Red flags were popping up everywhere, and I believe, based upon my extremely scant knowledge of the case, that Dr. G needlessly put the owner in harm’s way.
But I’d like to draw your attention to the words standard of care. Every veterinary liability expert with whom I’ve spoken over the last 15 years has been adamant about this phrase (which is the guideline for determining whether a lawsuit is valid). It is below the standard of care to allow an owner to restrain their pet for any veterinary procedure. Some experts claim that it is below the standard of care to allow the owner even to be in the same room with the pet. If the owner is injured, the vet is at fault. In other words, owners never should be allowed to be involved in any veterinary procedure.
What if some pets are most comfortable in the presence of their owners? The courts don’t care. What if pets can become dangerously stressed when taken away from their owners? The courts don’t care. What if the owners know better than anyone else how to restrain their pet without causing stress? The courts don’t care.
The mantra, which I have heard again and again, is that vets who allow owners to participate in their pets’ treatment will get sued. And although I’d like to disbelieve it, the evidence for the mantra sadly and continuously builds.
I’m strongly opposed to the notion that pets should be separated from their owners for treatments. But I don’t make the rules. I merely have to live with them. I will have to perform my treatments away from pets’ owners until the American tort system comes to its senses. I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.
Photo: I think she’s peeking.