If your vet did something that led to the death of your dog, you may be entitled to sue for the harm the vet caused your family.
When is a vet responsible for killing a dog?
Normally, you can sue a vet for veterinary malpractice or negligence. That generally means that your dog died because the vet did something that a reasonable vet wouldn’t have done in that situation or failed to do something that a reasonable vet would have done in that situation.
If you brought your dog in with serious injuries or illness and the vet couldn’t save your dog despite giving ordinary veterinary care, the vet generally wouldn’t be liable.
Veterinary malpractice where the vet could be liable can include things like:
Giving the wrong dose of a medication
Not performing important medical tests
Serious mistakes during medical procedures
The key is usually that your vet’s actions or inaction led to the death of your dog.
What about boarding situations?
Many vets offer boarding services for pet owners who are traveling or can’t immediately pick their dogs up after grooming or medical appointments. Vets also have a duty of care to dogs and pet owners in this situation.
Your vet may be liable for things like:
Not providing your dog access to adequate food and water
Not having appropriate procedures to deal with injuries or illnesses
Allowing your dog to be exposed to extreme heat or extreme cold
Leaving your dog unattended for long periods of time and thereby allowing your dog to be harmed
How much can you sue a vet for?
The bad news for many pet owners is that dogs are considered personal property in most states.
This usually means that you can’t sue for more than the fair market value of your dog plus any extra vet bills you had because of your vet’s actions.
Only a small number of states legally recognize dogs as companion animals and allow pet owners to claim additional damages. For example, Tennesse law allows you to receive up to $5,000 in non-economic damages.
It’s usually difficult to receive compensation for emotional distress or punitive damages in a case against a vet. Infliction of emotional distress often requires an intentional act to harm you or your dog or at least something far more egregious than a simple mistake.
What if your dog was a service animal or a working dog?
You may be entitled to additional damages if your dog was a service animal or working dog. Your dog is still considered property, but it also has a clear economic value.
You may be entitled to claim things like the cost of training another dog or extra out-of-pocket expenses you had to pay while you didn’t have your service dog.
Do you have to pay veterinary bills if your dog dies?
When a vet is unable to save your dog, you generally still have to pay for any vet bills. The bills are for the vet’s attempt to treat your dog, similar to how a person’s estate is normally responsible for final healthcare expenses.
When a vet makes a mistake in treating your dog, it’s usually a best practice for the vet to waive the related vet bills at a minimum. However, if the vet disputes that veterinary malpractice led to your dog’s death, you may be contractually liable to pay the veterinary bills unless you prove what happened in court or reach a settlement with the vet.
Should I contact an attorney?
You may want to reach out to a law firm to request a free consultation about what you might be able to sue a vet for.
If you live in a place that limits what you can sue for, it’s fairly common for the pet owner to sue in small claims court without a lawyer. The reality is that hiring a lawyer could cost more than what you can receive in a lawsuit.
Where can I file a complaint against a vet?
Most states have some sort of veterinary board that oversees vets and can suspend their licenses or impose other sanctions. In many cases, the vet board can’t help you recover money except for the fact that a complaint can potentially make the vet take your claim more seriously and possibly be more willing to settle.
One reason you might want to file a complaint is to make sure other pet owners don’t have to go through the same thing. If the vet board keeps getting complaints about the same vet, they know they need to take a closer look at that vet.