Many pet owners consider pets to be members of the family. Generally, we know what to do and who to call if we are injured, but what about our pets?
Under Virginia law, pets are considered personal property. Therefore, when pets are injured by the negligence of others, the damages an owner may be entitled to are very limited. Under Virginia Code § 3.2-6585, the owner of any dog or cat that is injured or killed is usually only entitled to recover the veterinary bills incurred to return the pet back to health or, if the pet dies, the “fair market value” of the pet. Unfortunately, the “fair market value” of the pet does not include sentimental value if a veterinarian has negligently caused injury or death. Additionally, a pet owner is not entitled to damages for pain or mental anguish suffered as the result of injury or death of the pet. This is true even though pets may be more than just our companions, and the loss of such an animal may be nearly equal to the loss of a family member.
Because only limited damages are available to pet owners for the negligent injury to their pets, it is typically not cost-effective to hire a law firm to represent you (or for you to represent yourself) in a civil action against a veterinarian. An alternative is available to you that may give you peace of mind.
If you believe your pet has been injured by the negligence of a veterinarian, you can file a complaint against them. Veterinarians are regulated by the Virginia Department of Health Professions (DHP). Upon receiving your complaint, the DHP will review your allegations, and investigate whether or not the veterinarian acted appropriately under the law. The DHP will send its report to the Virginia Board of Veterinary Medicine (BVM).
The Board will review the case to determine whether there is probable cause to charge the veterinarian with a violation of law or regulation. If there is insufficient evidence, the case may be closed and no further action will be taken.
Administrative proceedings, possibly including a disciplinary hearing, may be scheduled if the Board believes there is sufficient evidence to indicate that a violation has occurred. The BVM and the veterinarian being charged may each call witnesses and introduce evidence. The pet owner who filed the complaint may be asked to participate in this process. Disciplinary proceedings are open to the public. The Board will notify the Complainant and the veterinarian of its final decision, typically in writing. The final decision may include disciplinary action against the Veterinarian, including reprimand, censure, sanction, monetary penalty, order for remedial or corrective action, license probation, limitations on a licensee’s practice privileges and/or license suspension or revocation. However, the BVM does not have the legal authority to order reimbursement or award damages to you for your losses. For more information about filing a complaint against a veterinarian in Virginia, visit the Virginia Department of Health Professions’ website at http://www.dhp.virginia.gov/Enforcement/complaints.htm
About the Author: Abbigale B. Fredrick is the Intake Attorney for Allen & Allen, located in the firm’s Richmond, VA office. In addition to being an experienced lawyer, Abby supervises the new case department and works with clients at the earliest stages of their cases. She meets with potential new clients and helps determine how Allen & Allen’s attorneys are best able to meet their needs. Abby’s background in insurance defense gives her valuable insights into how insurance companies handle and evaluate personal injury and medical malpractice claims.