Many veterinarians across Canada go about their business with little difficulty, as things run relatively smoothly in the daily operations of their practices. However, things do occasionally tend to go wrong in unpredictable ways, and when they do, that can sometimes be construed by pet owners as being the result of malpractice. As such, it’s vital for all vets to have robust malpractice insurance so that they don’t end up being blindsided by costly lawsuits that can threaten the viability of their practices.
One case which highlights the importance of such coverage came to a close in Florida earlier this year, as a vet who works primarily with horses ordered a prescription supplement for a group of polo horses, according to a report from the Courtroom View Network. However, it turned out the supplement was improperly made by the pharmacy that worked with the vet, and ended up killing 21 horses. One veterinary medical expert told the jury that the vet in this case bore no responsibility for the unfortunate incident, because it was the pharmacy lab that produced the harmful supplements, with 100 times more selenium than was prescribed.
“The dispensing veterinarian has a responsibility to provide the correct formulation and to request it,” equine medicine expert Dr. Richard Mitchell told the court, according to the site. “He has no means of being able to determine, in an analytical sense, how much selenium is in that bottle.”
What happened next?
In the end, the suit concluded with the jury awarding the polo team’s owners a total of more than $2.5 million in damages, but from the pharmacy lab, rather than the vet who prescribed the drug in the first place, or the one who actually injected the horses with the supplements, the report said. Both the vets in question were cleared of liability. However, this was a case that had to be litigated, and took two weeks to complete from the start of the trial to the verdict.
In addition, a separate case in Florida brought late last year and involving a far less substantial amount of money is nonetheless just as illustrative of the need for malpractice insurance. There, a Bichon Frise owner who brought his purebred dog in for a tooth cleaning instead saw the vet extract seven teeth without consulting the owner, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Then came a flesh-eating bacteria infection, tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills, and months of worrying before another vet finally found an antibiotic prescription that knocked out the infection. The original vet told the owner to file a claim with his malpractice insurer, but the claim was rejected. Thus the lawsuit, which seeks to cover the cost of the medical bills, plus another $96,000 in punitive damages.
Cases like this highlight exactly why this kind of insurance is so important, because not only can it cover basic costs related to lawsuits and so on, but also provide peace of mind to vets who are only trying to do their best for patients.
“In all businesses where one works with a living being there is a strong sense of moral responsibility on the business to conduct itself in a manner not to harm that living thing,” states Kent Pitkin, Director Commercial Lines at APRIL Canada. “When dealing with professions like veterinary medicine there are many occasions when complications may arise with surgery and medication which are not always clearly identifiable. In these cases pet owners, losing a loved member of the family, will be seeking damages. Having the proper insurance to protect the veterinaries in these cases is very important to ensure the viability of the business.”
He adds, “Another important coverage to purchase is Legal Expense coverage, which can assist in allowing the veterinarians access to lawyers for questions or concerns to hopefully mitigate small claims. This is certainly another important consideration for these professionals.”