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Canadian Lawyers and Laws on Veterinary Malpractice

12th June 2009
By Kevin Johnson in Legal
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We're all familiar with medical malpractice in the common sense where an impetuous surgeon misplaces a scalpel or two inside a patient's chest cavity... but what about pets? As it turns out, more and more cases are surfacing involving the death of a pet due to veterinary malpractice.

Historically, the value of an animal was limited to its economic value. The intent leaned more towards farmers who, if disenfranchised by the loss of livestock, would be awarded the market value of that animal. This of course forgoes any consideration for the connection between an owner and their furry friend, which is evident when what the owner spends to save their animal exceeds the pet's "market value". For instance, a pet owner who funds a $50,000 surgery to have a cancerous tumor removed from their cat when the cat's market value is fourteen dollars.

Some believe that Canada is right for not putting a price tag on the emotional distress caused by losing an animal to veterinary malpractice. The high price of a vet visit would only increase after malpractice insurance rates grow due to larger settlement amounts. This seems justified by what has happened with healthcare in the United States. But is it right for the whole to save a few dollars when a few have legitimate claims to bigger settlements?

California doesn't think so. The USA Today mentions the saga of a dog owner's lawyer who fought for and received $30,000 for the dog's "unique value" in addition to the costs associated with the surgery. They go on to mention a similar case out of Kentucky where the court awarded a pet owner $15,000 for their dead German shepherd.

The common law opinion that animals are merely property is perceived more and more as defunct. Tort suits in the US where pet owners receive monies beyond the scope of their animal's economic value are becoming more prevalent and it may only be a matter of time before Canada follows suit.

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