Veterinarian Malpractice Case Law
Animal rights lawyers are actively filing suits against veterinarians for malpractice. In these cases they often argue that the proper valuation of a pet animal is higher than the replacement cost of the animal and should include damages for the "true" value that pets have. This section contains cases from a variety of courts that have addressed this issue.
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Kaufman v. Langhofer, D.V.M., --- P.3d ----, 2009 WL 4980337(Ariz. App. Div. 1 Dec 22, 2009) (NO. 1 CA-CV 08-0655)
An Arizona court of appeals held that “expanding Arizona common law to allow a pet owner to recover emotional distress or loss of companionship damages would be inappropriate as it would offer broader compensation for the loss of a pet than is currently available in this state for the loss of a person.” In this case, Kaufman, a pet owner, alleged that his veterinarian committed malpractice and sought to recover emotional distress and loss of companionship damages for the death of his scarlet macaw. The pet owner argued for an expansion of Arizona law that would allow for the recovery of emotional distress damages for the death of a pet. The court held that the emotional distress damages were not recoverable in this case under Arizona law. Specifically, the court held that animals are personal property under Arizona law and emotional distress damages could not be recovered in this case for the death of an animal. Read the opinion: html | PDF
Read the amici curiae brief submitted by the Animal Defense League of Arizona, PETA Foundation, and Animal Protection and Rescue League on behalf of the dog owner: PDF (Note: Requires NABR Login)Read the amici curiae brief submitted by the Arizona Veterinary Medical Association, Animal Health Institute, American Animal Hospital Association, American Kennel Club, American Pet Products Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, Cat Fanciers' Association, and Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council on behalf of the veterinarian: PDF (Note: Requires NABR Login)
McMahon v. Craig et al.,176 Cal.App.4th 222 (4th Dist. 2009)
McMahon, a dog owner brought an action against veterinarians for veterinary malpractice and intentional infliction of emotional distress after dog died while in veterinarians' care. McMahon sought damages for emotional distress and loss of companionship. The Court of Appeal, Aronson, J., held that (1) the owner could not recover emotional distress damages for alleged veterinary malpractice; (2) veterinarians did not commit tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (3) the dog's value as companion was not recoverable as element of dog's “peculiar value” to owner.
Read the opinion: html
Read the amici curiae brief submitted by the California Veterinary Medical Association and other organizations: PDF
George v. Leopold,18 Conn. L. Rptr. 180, Not Reported in A.2d, 1996 WL 649296 (Conn. Super. 1996)
Cat owner brought an action for negligence against the cat’s veterinarian alleging that the veterinarian had failed to exercise a reasonable degree of care, leading to the death of the cat. The plaintiff sought to recover damages for emotional bystander distress. The court held that the cat owner had failed to allege facts sufficient for the court to recognize a claim of emotional distress in veterinarian malpractice actions.
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Altieri v. Nanavati,
573 A.2d 359 (Conn. Super., 1990)
Dog owners brought negligence action against veterinarian alleging unwanted surgery was performed on their dog. The court reversed summary judgment finding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Nanavati was acting as an employee of a professional corporation in dealings with the plaintiffs, making summary judgment improper. The court additional noted that “it is unlikely that the plaintiffs will be able to recover, as an element of damages, any alleged emotional distress they may have experienced as a result of the surgery on their dog. In Maloney v. Conroy, 208 Conn. 392, 402, 545 A.2d 1059 1988), the [Connecticut] Supreme Court recently held that there can be no bystander emotional disturbance claims arising from medical malpractice on another person. There is no reason to believe that malpractice on the family pet will receive higher protection than malpractice on a child or spouse.”
Read the opinion: html | PDFKennedy v. Byas,
867 So.2d 1195 (Fla. App. 1 Dist. 2004)
Plaintiff filed for a Writ of Certiorari requesting that damages for emotional distress for alleged veterinary malpractice by the defendant be included in his claim in order to satisfy the jurisdictional limits of the court. The Court held that under Florida law pet are considered personal property, not family members. Therefore an exemption to the impact rule was inapplicable in this case and damages for emotional distress cannot be included to meet the jurisdictional limits. Therefore the plaintiff did not have sufficient damages to meet the circuit courts jurisdictional limit and the petition was denied.
Johnson v. Wander, 592 So. 2d. 1225 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App., 1992)
Dog owner sued veterinarian for professional negligence after the veterinarian allegedly left the dog on heating pads for a long period of time resulting in serious burns to the animal. The dog owner sought damages for gross negligence and damage to property causing emotional distress. The court held that the owner's claims for punitive damages and emotional distress were jury questions and the circuit court improperly granted partial summary judgment striking owner's claims for such damages.
Knowles Animal Hospital, Inc. v. Wills, 360 So.2d 37 (Fla. App., 1978)
Dog owners sued veterinarian and animal hospital for injury to dog and their physical and mental pain and suffering caused by the injuries their dog alleged suffered while under the care of veterinarians and the animal hospital. The Appeals Court held that the trial court did not err by allowing the jury to consider the dog owners alleged mental pain and suffering because “the jury could, and no doubt did view the neglectful conduct which resulted in the burn injury suffered by the dog to have been of a character amounting to great indifference to the property of the plaintiffs, such as to justify the jury award.”
Read the opinion: html | PDFLevine v. Knowles,197 So.2d 329 (Fla. App., 1967)
Dog owner bought suit against veterinarian for compensatory and punitive damages alleging that the veterinarian negligently performed surgery on his dog then willfully cremated it to avoid the consequences of autopsy and probable malpractice claims. The court held that under Florida law dogs are considered subjects of property or ownership. However, the court also found that under Florida law punitive damages “have long been held to lie for the malicious killing of a dog and our Supreme Court has recognized that the anguish suffered from the loss of a pet dog may be substantial.” The court found that the alleged facts, if established upon trial, could justify a recovery of punitive damages as well as damages for mental suffering and anguish to the plaintiff.
Read the opinion: html | PDFWertman v. Tipping,166 So.2d 666 (Fla. App., 1964)
Dog owners sued the owner and operator of animal hospital after their escaped from kennels at hospital and was never found. The court found that “there was substantial, competent evidence to support the finding of trial judge that the dog which was lost had a value of $1,000.” The court noted that generally market value is the proper measure of damages for the death of a dog or if the dog has some special or pecuniary value to the owner, ascertainable by reference to the usefulness or services of the dog, that may be the proper value.
Carroll v. Rock, 469 S.E.2d 391 (Ga. App. 1996)
A cat owner brought a suit alleging conversion, breach of bailment and emotional distress against veterinarian after the cat escaped from veterinarian's care. She also sought punitive damages and attorney fees. A jury verdict awarded cat owner compensatory damages, attorneys fees, reimbursement for gas spent searching for cat, and damages for mental anguish, pain and suffering. The Court of Appeals reversed the damages for mental anguish, pain and suffering because of errors in the trial courts instructions. The court also held that the trial court erred in admitting any testimony as to emotional distress suffered by pet owner because recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress is allowed only where there has been some impact on the plaintiff that results in a physical injury.
Jankoski v. Preiser Animal Hospital, Ltd., 510 N.E.2d 1084 (Ill. App. Ct. 1987)
Dog owners sued animal hospital and veterinarians for the loss of the “companionship, loyalty, security and friendship” of their dog allegedly caused by the animal hospital and veterinarian’s negligence. The court held that “in the eyes of the law, a dog is an item of personal property” and affirmed the order of the trial court holding that a dog owner cannot recover damages for the loss of companionship of a dog.
Koester v. VCA Animal Hosp.,
Oberschlake v. Veterinary Assoc. Animal Hosp.,
624 N.W.2d 209 (Mich. App. 2000); lv. app. den. 631 N.W. 2d 339 (Mich. 2001)
A dog owner brought negligence action against veterinarian and animal hospital after the veterinarian apparently bandaged his dog in a manner that led to its suffocation. The plaintiff sought to recover damages for pain and suffering, extreme fright, shock, mortification, and the loss of the companionship of his dog. The court held that pets are considered personal property and there is no Michigan precedent that permits the recovery of damages for emotional injuries allegedly suffered as a consequence of property damage. The court held that the proper place to create such a remedy is the Legislature and therefore declined to allow the recovery of emotional distress damages.
Bedford v. Jorden, 698 P.2d 854 (Mont., 1985)
Parrot owner brought suit against veterinarian alleging that the veterinarian by willfully or by gross negligence broke, or allowed to be broken a wing of the owner’s parrot. The owner sought $750 in special damages, unspecified general damages, and $50,000 in punitive damages. The court found the parrot owner failed to produce any evidence that would establish a prima facie case of negligence, let alone intentional cruelty or inhumanity to animals and therefore affirmed the trail courts grant of summary judgment in favor of veterinarian.
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Fackler v. Genetzky,595 N.W.2d 884 (Neb., 1999)
Racehorse owners brought an action, alleging professional negligence, against their veterinarian for allegedly administering equine medicines with nonsterile syringes, resulting in the deaths of two racehorses. Among other damages the owners were seeking to recover damages for emotional distress. The Nebraska Supreme Court held that under Nebraska law animals are personal property and emotional damages are not available for the negligent destruction of personal property.
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Harabes v. Barkery, Inc., 791 A.2d 1142 (N.J.Super.L. 2001)
Plaintiffs sought damages for mental distress and loss of companionship after their dog allegedly died of medical complications after she was negligently subjected to extreme heat for an extended period of time at a dog grooming business. The court held that there is no authority in New Jersey for allowing recovery of noneconomic damages for the alleged negligence of the veterinarian. Furthermore, various public policy concerns mitigate against permitting such claims. Most significantly, there is no reason to believe that emotional distress and loss of companionship damages, which are unavailable for the loss of a child or spouse, should be recoverable for the loss of a pet dog.
Jason v. Parks, 638 N.Y.S.2d 170 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept. 1996)
Dog owner brought action against veterinarian, alleging veterinary malpractice, and seeking to recover damages for emotional distress caused by the negligent destruction of the dog. Affirming previous cases, the court held that it is well established that a pet owner in New York cannot recover damages for emotional distress caused by the negligent destruction of a dog.
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785 N.E.2d 811 (Ohio App. 2 Dist. 2003)
Dog owners sued their veterinarian and animal hospital for veterinary malpractice resulting in emotional distress and loss of companionship for allegedly attempting to spay their dog, which had already been spayed. The trial court dismissed their claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress and loss of companionship because dogs are considered personal property under Ohio law. The appellate court affirmed and agreeing with the trial court held that dogs are considered personal property under Ohio law and noneconomic damages are not recoverable.
Langford v. Emergency Pet Clinic, 644 N.E.2d 1035 (Ohio App. 8 Dist., 1994)
Dog owner sued pet clinic and pet cemetery for intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress resulting from the alleged burial of her dog in a mass grave. The court held that the pet clinic and cemetery were not liable to dog owner for either the elements necessary to recover for intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress. Specifically the court held that dog owners failed to prove the pet clinic and cemetery's conduct in burying dog was so extreme as to go beyond bounds of human decency and the dog owner was neither bystander to accident nor in fear of physical harm to her own person.
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McDonald v. Ohio State Univ. Veterinary Hospital, 644 N.E.2d 750 (Ohio Ct. Cl., 1994)
Miller v. Peraino,626 A.2d 637 (Pa. Super., 1993)
Defendant veterinary hospital filed a stipulation of liability admitting that the surgery it performed on plaintiff’s show dog was negligent and, as a result, the animal suffered irreversible paraplegia or paralysis of the hind limbs, requiring plaintiff to euthanize the dog. The sole issue at trial was damages. The court determined that under Ohio law dogs are personal property and “market value is a standard to guide the court in the valuation of personal property loss.” The court held that considering the dog’s specialized training, unique pedigree and potential earnings for stud fees the plaintiff suffered $5,000 for the loss of the dog.
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Veterinarian sued dog owners for alleged defamation, intentional interference with contractual relations, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. The dog owners counterclaimed alleging that the veterinarian viciously beat plaintiff's dog to death and sought to recover damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, among others. Relying on a Pennsylvania statute that declared that all dogs are personal property and a previous case the court held that dog owners could not recover damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress based upon a veterinarian's treatment of a dog because a dog is property, not a family member.
Daughen v. Fox, 539 A.2d 858 (Pa. Super., 1988)
Zeid v. Pearce,953 S.W.2d 368 (Tex.App.-El Paso, 1997)
Dog owners brought action against two veterinarians and an animal hospital for intentional infliction of emotional distress, loss of unique chattel, loss of companionship and comfort, and breach of express and implied warranties after the defendants allegedly mixed up x-rays and performed an unnecessary operation on the dog. The court held that the defendant’s actions were not extreme and outrageous conduct directed at the plaintiffs. The court also held that under Pennsylvania law a dog is considered personal property, and, “[u]nder no circumstances, under the law of Pennsylvania, may there be recovery for loss of companionship due to the death of an animal.”
Richard and Susan Zeid brought a veterinary malpractice claim against the veterinarian, Dr. Pearce, based on the of death of dog after it received a vaccination. They sought to recover damages for pain and suffering and mental anguish. The Texas Appellate court held affirmed the lower court stating that "one may not recover damages for pain and suffering or mental anguish for the loss of a pet."
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Goodby v. Vetpharm, Inc., 974 A.2d 1296 (Vt. 2009)
The owners of two cats who allegedly died from treatment and medication supplied by defendants, filed a action to seeking to recover noneconomic damages due to the allegedly negligent acts of veterinarians and a pharmaceutical company. The owners also sought to recover damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress based on the deaths of the cats. The trial court dismissed plaintiffs' claims for loss of companionship and severe emotional distress, as well as their complaint for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed and held that noneconomic damages were not available and the correct measure of damages was the fair market value of the cats. The court also held that the cat owners were not in zone of danger, as required to support claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Read the opinion: html | PDFRead the brief submitted by the Vermont Federation of Dog Clubs, Animal Health Institute, American Kennel Club, and Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council As Amici Curiae in Support of Defendants-appellees: PDF
Read the brief submitted by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association as Amicus Curiae in Support of Defendants-Appellees: PDF
Read the brief submitted by the Animal Legal Defense Fund as Amicus Curiae in Support of Plaintiffs-Appellants: PDF