The calls to the dogline (844-Dog-Atty) alleging veterinary negligence are some of the hardest to navigate. Veterinary negligence is essentially the failure of the doctor to adhere to the minimum standard of care expected of a veterinarian. It is a very low threshold so it’s highly likely that the vet’s actions did fall within the standard and there is no case. In a twenty- minute call with a pet owner, we go through outrage, sadness, anger, finger-pointing and guilt pretty quickly. The pet owner’s guilt is bubbling just below the surface and often the motivating factor in calling my office. A pet owner needs to heal by understanding that he or she has not contributed to the harm because they chose to go to a particular vet or followed their advice.
Only a handful of lawyers take on vet negligence cases in part because historically they do not generate good fees. These cases are so hard fought by the vet’s insurers that lawyers will lose money handling them. Nationwide our state legislators need to challenge the status quo and modernize the laws that view our pets as personal property. Under the present law a pet owner is rarely able to successfully seek damages for loss of companionship and emotional distress. That makes sense if it was a car or tv that was damaged. It no longer makes sense for our dogs and cats and horses, because they are property with special properties. Not saying they should be equal in the eyes of the court to humans, but they certainly are not equal to other physical personal property.
Why has Boston Dog Lawyers chosen to represent pet owners in these cases? Our decision is based on some not-so-obvious reasons. First, if we reject this class of cases then who else can the pet owner turn to? Second, holding the right people accountable in the dog world when things go wrong is very important to us. When we defend a dog who bit someone, oftentimes part of the defense is to admit that the dog owner (my client) will make a commitment to improve their pet management skills. Third, the responses I have seen to pet owners from some in the veterinary field are abysmal. It is a lawless land that begs owners to seek justice via the wrong arenas. Fourth, the difficulty in finding a veterinarian to critique the work of a colleague or peer has been a major obstacle for my predecessors. Now though, we are seeing cracks in that wall. Finally, it is pretty cool to be part of the frontline as we battle to make change. What I have learned so far is that to present a veterinary negligence case you must demonstrate clear liability, so a vigorous records review is paramount. We are not veterinary vigilantes and only a small percentage of calls lead to an actual case.
Boston Dog Lawyers is affiliated with Joey’s Legacy Inc. A non-profit organization working to improve the quality of care provided to our favorite family members. As a result of the energy and emotion that its founder expended trying to avenge the wrongful death of his dog Joey, he launched this program in his honor. Joey suffered an untimely death due to the negligence of his veterinarian. Joey’s owner had to fight too hard and too long to compel accountability. Through Joey’s Legacy, pet owners make a small donation and gain access to the most energetic, experienced and compassionate veterinary experts and attorneys who are innovators in this area. The team has grown to handle cases in nearly two dozen states, at reduced fees.
With strength in numbers we can tackle the status quo in honor of your dog and in memory of Joey. The group is ready to challenge those vets who make mistakes and refuse to acknowledge them because they have not had to. Insurers need to take notice that we are developing the strongest cases to finally compel the veterinary industry to improve their practices. There is no present credible and legitimate policing of the industry. Rather than taking it to the streets (social media) it’s time to take it to state legislators and the courts. Our team screens all cases to pursue only those that clearly indicate wrongdoing. Please take a look at www.myjoeyslegacy.com and www.facebook.com/groups/JoeysLegacy/.
If the pet owner who suffers the loss can have another remedy besides anger, it would benefit the vet practice. If the vet industry (including its lobbyists and insurers) agree to open modern avenues of recovering for a loss, then perhaps there will be less cynicism, anger and negative energy which has had nowhere else to go. Turning to the state licensing boards, based on our experiences, has meant taking a long winding road full of tolls and potholes, to nowhere satisfactory. We are human beings and we have a need to investigate and closeout the bad things that happen to us. If pet owners see social media as the only way to avenge the loss of a pet, they may be unfairly damaging a veterinary practice and ultimately not obtaining the proper compensation.
Those we pay to care for our pets should be held responsible for more than the cost to repair or replace them. We just want the pet business that we frequent to accept responsibility when they cause harm, regardless of intent. Mistakes happen and that is why they have insurance. Financially punishing bad behavior has a way of creating better behavior.
Expanding damages for which pet owners can recover is a way to more accurately reflect how important pets are not only to us, but also to the vet practice. Presently there is not an equal playing field when it is pet owners vs. vet owners. To be fair and satisfying, pet owners must be able to recover loss of companionship damages and emotional distress damages.