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Florida pet owners suing veterinarians for medical malpractice

When a doctor makes a mistake and a patient suffers an injury, the patient can file a medical malpractice claim against the doctor. But some may be surprised to hear that medical malpractice suits against veterinarians are on the rise as pet medical treatments become more sophisticated and expensive.

A few months ago, a Miami Beach, Florida couple won a malpractice case against their veterinarian. The judge ruled that their miniature pinscher's surgeon committed malpractice while performing surgery on the couple's dog. The owners said they did not sue the surgeon for the money but simply wanted the clinic held accountable.

But theirs is not the only medical malpractice claim against a veterinarian. Another case involving a dead stallion is pending in Palm Beach County, Florida courts. The owners allege that the horse died from abdominal surgery complications.

While there are no statistics on the number of veterinary malpractice cases filed in Florida, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation investigated 139 complaints against veterinarians over a period of five years. Most of the cases were for gross negligence and veterinarians were penalized with fines or a license suspension.

The biggest debate is whether pet owners should be able to recover damages in veterinarian-related medical malpractice claims. Some argue that animals are legally the property of the owner while others are adamant that pets are part of a family and should be given the proper medical care when at the doctor's office.

Perhaps Florida courts may begin to see more of these types of cases. Statistically pet owners are spending more on veterinarian care for their animals. If there are more incidents of veterinarian negligence, more pet owners may find it worthwhile to sue the veterinarian.

Source: Orlando Sun-Sentinel: "Veterinary malpractice lawsuits may rise as pet owners spend more on care," Diane C. Lade, Nov. 4, 2011

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