Professional negligence encompasses a whole range of professionals including veterinary surgeons. Veterinary surgeons are required to treat your animal with a certain level of skill and care. We know that vet bills can be a significant outlay to a farming business and the loss of an animal when things go wrong, a great expense.
Examples of potential negligence include:
- Failure to identify an illness;
- Failure to administer the correct drug or treatment;
- Failure to advise correctly or all together;
- Mistake made during surgery which result in catastrophic injury or death; or
- Failure to accurately document a pre-purchase examination.
It is important to note, however, that a poor outcome in relation to an animal is not evidence of negligence on the vet’s part and therefore a distinction must be made between ‘poor’ service and ‘negligent’ treatment. We understand that it is upsetting and potentially financially difficult when treatment does not go according to plan, but by law, you must be able to show that:
- There was a duty of care owed by the vet to the farm client;
- This duty of care was breached; and
- The breach of duty caused loss which was foreseeable.
Duty of care
It must be established that a duty of care existed. Much like a doctor-patient relationship, a vet owes a contractual duty of care to the animal’s owner. That duty of care requires them to exercise reasonable care and skill which would be expected by any average or reasonably competent vet. The standard is not perfection or excellence.
Breach of duty
Once a duty of care has been established, it must be evidenced that the standard of care has fallen below the standards expected of an average or reasonably competent vet. This can be an act, an omission, lack of information, failure to properly advise or assess livestock pre-purchase. When assessing the alleged breach, consideration is given to factors such as:
Standard practice at the time of the alleged breach;
Differing of medical opinions; and
The vet’s level of experience.
A negligence claim will not succeed if it cannot be shown that the breach of duty caused loss or damage. This is the most difficult part of the claim to prove. It must be proved that, but for the vet’s negligence or omission, the loss would not have been suffered. It is important to note that if no loss has resulted from the negligence, then the claim will fail. If the loss that you have suffered was caused by something else but the vet’s negligence, then, unfortunately, the claim will not be successful.
In addition, the loss caused needs to be reasonably foreseeable and therefore reasonably imaginable that the result would happen if a vet were negligent.
If causation and loss can be established, a Court will aim to put you back into the position that you would be in if the negligence had not occurred. Ordinarily, we will only consider dealing with claims where the loss amounts to £10,000 or more to avoid legal costs being incurred which are disproportionate to the sum which is sought.
Do you have a claim?
Before immediately entering into litigation and issuing a claim, careful consideration should be given to alternative options listed below.
Complain. The first place to voice your concerns should be the veterinary practice. It may be that you receive exactly what you are looking for such as; an apology, a refund, free corrective surgery or some form of compensation. It may be that by simply directing your concerns to the vet, the matter is resolved.
If you do not get a satisfactory response from the practice, then another option is to complain directly to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. They can investigate complaints about veterinary surgeons and nurses; however, they will not make a financial award of compensation and so may not be appropriate for someone who is looking for a financial payment.
If neither of these alternatives satisfies your complaint, litigation can be a last resort, and we can help you.