Veterinarian Interests   02/03/2023

How to Reduce the Risk of Veterinary Malpractice Allegations

By Jonathan Decker

How to Reduce the Risk of Veterinary Malpractice Allegations

Malpractice lawsuits are becoming more common in veterinary medicine. Follow these guidelines to keep your practice safe.

No single action can keep you and your veterinary business out of legal hot water. However, mitigating your risks will safeguard your practice against litigation. Here are some veterinarian claim prevention tips to adopt if you haven’t done so yet.

Veterinary malpractice lawsuits are becoming more common

Before providing veterinary care

  • Take pet owner education seriously– Carefully explain your diagnoses, treatment options, risks and estimated costs.
  • Never guarantee a positive outcome– Instead, always be realistic about what can go wrong, including an animal’s death.
  • Provide full background on recommended treatments– Once a pet owner decides to go forward, carefully explain what the procedure will involve, stressing again that adverse outcomes are possible.
  • Secure full written consent– Never proceed unless you have obtained the owner’s written agreement.
  • Avoid positioning yourself as a specialist unless you are board certified– Saying you have advanced training will subject you to a higher care standard and increase your legal exposure.
  • Understand the animal’s care history– If a pet has received treatment elsewhere, request the file(s). Once you receive their full record, review it carefully for evidence of prior litigation.
  • If you lack the equipment or expertise to perform a needed procedure, don’t do it– Always refer patients to another vet who can provide high-quality care.

During veterinary treatments

  • Create a paper trail– Always meticulously record the treatment, any departure from standard protocols and problems encountered. In all cases, document the rationale for your decisions during the procedure.
  • Uphold boundaries– Avoid allowing pet parents to participate in procedures. Your veterinary technicians should restrain or comfort animals, not the pets’ owners.
  • Update your clients– If a condition requires a treatment course, provide continuous updates on progress and problems along the way.
  • Follow identification standards– This will prevent you from operating on the wrong animal or body part.
  • Document the procedure you’re performing in the animal’s record– Review the file ahead of time to avoid doing the wrong one.

After veterinary treatments

  • Project authority and confidence if complications occur– Avoid second-guessing your original recommendation. Provide several options for returning the animal to health.
  • If the cause of death is unknown, recommend a necropsy– Refer the case to a veterinary pathologist as needed.
  • Subscribe to a philosophy of full disclosure– Even when treatments go wrong, be open and honest in your discussions with pet owners.
  • Never stop feeling– When animals get hurt or die, remain objective, but don’t harden your heart. Support your clients emotionally as they face difficult days ahead.
  • Safeguard your medical records– When patients request their pets’ medical files, only give them copies.

When veterinary litigation becomes a possibility

  • Notify your malpractice insurer promptly when a client begins complaining– The claim may go nowhere, but you will have complied with your insurer’s loss notification requirements. 
  • Never agree to settle a malpractice charge by yourself– Seek input from your malpractice insurance company and the attorney on your case.
  • Adjust fees carefully– If you agree to lower your fee after a poor outcome, do it as a goodwill gesture, not an admission of guilt.
  • Cooperate fully with your insurance claims adjuster– Provide all requested information as quickly as possible.
  • Avoid discussing the case with your client or that person’s attorney without your own lawyer’s involvement– This is especially true during claim-settlement negotiations.

Risk management guidelines

  • Veterinary malpractice claims arise in many different ways– The best veterinarian malpractice claim prevention entails understanding your practice standards and upholding them faithfully.
  • Know what qualifies as professional negligence– First, the vet must have a duty of care toward an animal and fail to meet that duty. Second, the failure must result in injury or death to the animal. Third, the outcome must cause the owner to suffer a financial loss. Finally, the vet’s negligence must have caused the loss. 
  • Practice state-of-the-art veterinary medicine– Participate in continuing education as needed and keep up with your journal reading.
  • Understand the full range of state regulations that apply to your practice– Then comply with them.
  • Become a student of your state’s veterinary practice act– Follow its provisions without fail.
  • Adhere to state data security regulations– Store records offsite and make sure your cybersecurity defense shield is strong.
  • Avoid suing pet owners who are delinquent with their payments– This often results in retaliatory lawsuits.
  • Encourage client questions and answer them patiently– Being a tireless educator will build client goodwill and reduce lawsuits.
  • Enlist your care team in shielding your practice against patient litigation– Make sure they understand what’s at stake and what actions will shield the business.
  • Know how to respond when a client alleges negligence– First, determine the nature of the complaint (a lawsuit or state board action). Then, gather all relevant documentation. Finally, scour your case file to verify your account of the dispute.
  • Notify your insurer as soon as possible– This will enable them to provide you with an attorney and assess the claim’s legitimacy.  
  • Grow your list of veterinary malpractice claim tips– Become a student of malpractice risk mitigation to keep your business out of court.

Finally, even though getting sued is never pleasant, strive to remain calm and upbeat. If you did nothing wrong, chances are your attorney will mount a successful defense. Good luck!

Note: If you’d like a PDF booklet version of these veterinary claim prevention tips to share with staff, download it here.

360 Coverage Pros offers veterinarian professional liability insurance for as little as $17.50 per month. To learn more, visit our website.

Apply Now