Veterinary Law: A Valuable Subspecialty

0 Comments Posted by Molly Wade in General, Legal on Thursday, March 20th, 2014.


As a veterinary hospital owner, your free time is already on a tight leash. However, scheduling coffee with some legal news and information may prove not only worth your time but valuable to your practice’s pocketbook, too.

A Little Knowledge Can Be a Dangerous Thing

Today’s easy accessibility to the Internet and the resulting overload of information on any given topic makes the World Wide Web both a virtue and a vice. The encyclopedic amount of medical information tempts people to self-diagnose not only themselves but also their pets. For example, a simple Google search on “Lyme Disease” or “Lump on the Skin” results in pages and pages of information that ranges from drastic symptoms to surgery to euthanasia preparation. Even the most educated client can fall victim to the Internet’s “authority” and become convinced that, despite living a healthy lifestyle and exhibiting only a singular symptom, Fido has very limited time left on earth.

As more and more pet owners seem to be self-enrolled students of the Internet and subsequent “experts” on pet care, it becomes increasingly important for you and your veterinary team to devote more attention to potential legal concerns that may affect your practice. Although usually well-intentioned, clients feel self-informed and entitled to manage the veterinary care of their pets, which can have costly consequences for you. Staying abreast of current legal issues will help you as a veterinarian navigate over and through potential legal hurdles that could threaten your professional success.

The Personalization of Pets

Social attitudes towards animals are beginning to sway national legal opinion. Once regarded merely as “property”, pets are now considered “cherished family members” in the legal eyes of some states and thus are able to claim some legal status. This changing viewpoint may result in an increase in veterinary malpractice lawsuits as pet owners attach and seek monetary compensation as consolation for a lost pet. Even if no evidence of gross malpractice is present, a grieving pet owner may try and attribute Rover’s untimely death to his veterinarian’s negligent act or omission. Clearly, it is better for you to be protected by knowing the law and your rights than to blindly receive a summons in the mail.

stethoscope and gavel

Veterinary Medicine and the Law – Different yet Intertwined

A Case in Fact

With increasing frequency, more and more veterinarians are assessing animals, particularly canines, for potential aggression or for evidence of abuse/neglect. If an animal has been evaluated by you and then subsequently causes an individual harm, suddenly you may be placed in a vulnerable legal position and find yourself responding to a subpoena for documentation or, worse, an actual lawsuit. The best way to armor yourself against legal exposure is to keep yourself informed of current veterinary legal issues so that you may structure and tweak your actions accordingly.

Power of (an) Attorney

In today’s world, attorneys are often the butt of jokes and chides. However, don’t underestimate the value of having a good lawyer familiar in veterinary law available to you. As you progress through your career, you may find it helpful to call upon him/her for legal expertise if and when you need it.

Common crossroads where veterinary medicine and the law meet include:
• Classification of your practice’s business entity
• Employment Contracts and Negotiation
• Practice Mergers/Affiliations/Sales
• Veterinary Malpractice Lawsuits
• Professional Disciplinary Codes, Licensing and Ethics

Knowing the Law is Helpful – Beyond a “Reasonable” Doubt

Sometimes making the time to do the little things can turn out to be the best use of your time. So the next time you have an opportunity to browse through a veterinary legal journal or do a quick legal search on veterinary issues, you may be helping yourself. The best option? Log on frequently to VetNetwork’s blog and catch the latest in marketing, business and legal news that directly benefits your veterinary hospital’s success.

That’s off the record, of course.

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