Veterinary Malpractice in Oklahoma

posted April 15th, 2009 by
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Tulsa is fortunate enough to have some of the most caring and gifted Veterinarians in Oklahoma.  However, like any other physician, Veterinarians are capable of providing negligent care to their patients.  Although their patients are not human, a serious injury or the loss of life to your pet by substandard or negligent care can be emotionally devastating to the pet owner.  Laws in Oklahoma concerning veterinary malpractice appear to be few and far between and not as progressive as many other States. In fact, Oklahoma does not even have any appellate cases on point to provide guidance and authority to our Courts.

The reason veterinary malpractice cases do not make it to the appellate courts is because thedamages in these cases typically are too small to economically pursue that far. That is to say, in Oklahoma pets are treated merely as household property, thus the value of your damages for the loss of a pet is usually limited to the cost of its replacement, plus the cost of the veterinary bills arising from the negligent care, or additional bills incurred for corrective veterinary care.  Because these damages are typically not extensive, they usually can be recovered in Small Claims Court.

In addition to damages for replacement of your pet and veterinary bills, it may be possible to also recover damages for emotional distress.  Oklahoma law has long recognized damages arising from the negligent infliction of emotional distress. However, to recover this damage the law requires that some sort of physical manifestation accompanies the emotional distress, such as stomach disorders, headaches, nervous disorders, heart palpitations, etc.  Depending on the individual’s circumstances  resulting from the tragic loss of their pet, the damages awarded for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress could be substantial and worthy of pursuing in a Court level higher than Small Claims. 

In addition to legal action, or in the alternative, pet owners may wish to file a complaint with the Oklahoma Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.  Information concerning complaints can be obtained by visiting their web site at www.okvetboard.com or by calling (405) 524-9006.  

According to their website, the most frequent types of allegations received by the agency are: substandard care, poor bedside manner, unprofessional conduct, substandard facilities, inadequate record keeping, and negligence in the practice of veterinary medicine.  It is also important to know that unless there is clear and convincing evidence of fraud, the Board does not handle disputes over veterinary fees. 

 After a complaint is received, the Board will then investigate the matter and ask the accused Veterinarian to respond to the allegations. If the Board then determines that the Veterinarian acted negligent or unprofessional according to their standards of practice and the law, then they have the authority to impose sanctions and penalties.  These include fines, suspension or even revocation of the Veterinarian’s license to practice.

The Board can also be a useful tool to obtain much needed information about a Veterinarian that you may be considering.  This service may assist you in being able to avoid a Veterinarian that has a history of substandard care or unprofessionalism.     

In any event, before a person brings legal action or files a complaint, they should first speak with the Veterinarian and see if the matter can be resolved or settled fairly.  It is also important to understand that there are many risks associated with medical care for pets that are beyond any Veterinarian’s control and that there are no guarantees of a successful outcome.  

Overall, most pet owners would probably agree that as a whole, Oklahoma Veterinarians do their best to provide excellent and quality care for their pets.

Lloyd Benedict is a principal in the Benedict Law Office, Tulsa, and is a member of the Tulsa County Bar Association Animal Committee.

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