Can Veterinarians Sue Me if My Dog Bites Them?

Categories: Dog Bites

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Even very gentle dogs can become nervous and unpredictable at the vet’s office. It’s understandable: The animal is in an unfamiliar environment, being handled by strangers, and perhaps being administered shots or pills. If you take your dog to the vet and the dog bites the vet, whose fault was it? In most cases, courts have ruled that you cannot be held liable if your pet bites a veterinarian.

Why Vets Generally Can’t Sue For Dog Bites

The reason a vet normally can’t sue over a dog bite is that vets are considered to be in a unique professional position. A vet’s job is to handle to dogs; it’s assumed that he or she is prepared to do so and can guard against bites. In a sense, vets are usually found to have adopted the risk involved in handling dogs.

Statutes hold that the owner of a dog is responsible for any harm it causes, but the courts have found different ways to interpret this law to conclude that vets may not sue. From one perspective, the vet is essentially taking control of the pet for the duration of the appointment, and becoming a kind of owner. In some cases, the vet’s treatment may be considered to be a type of provocation.

Dog bite statutes make clear exceptions for when the dog is provoked, which makes sense. For example, you can’t harass a dog until it bites you, and then sue. Applying this idea to vets might seem strange, as the vet is simply treating the dog. However, provocation doesn’t need to be cruel or intentional for the statute to apply (see Wendland v. Akers, 356 So. 2d 368 (Fla. App. 1978). Many veterinary procedures are painful or frightening for dogs, so it’s no surprise that sometimes they react instinctively.

Exceptions

There are exceptions to this general principle. If, for example, an owner fails to warn the vet that the dog is aggressive, then the vet could not effectively adopt the risk. Had the vet known, he or she might have taken extra precautions or brought in extra assistance. In that type of situation, if your dog bites, it’s possible that you will be held liable.

In addition, if your dog bites an employee at the vet’s office, you might be held liable, based on the facts. The employee was not administering treatment to the dog, so the idea of provocation wouldn’t apply, and the employee has not assumed these risks as part of their job. That said, in this case, the employee might sue his employer rather than you for the exposure to the risk.

Seeking Compensation in Dog Bite Cases

If you were the victim of a dog bite, you need to speak with a good lawyer. An experienced lawyer can work with the insurance companies – and ultimately go to trial if necessary – to fight for the compensation you deserve. Every dog bite case is unique, so it’s best to have a lawyer review the specifics of your case in order to decide how it should be handled. Contact the Dog Bite Law Firm to schedule a free consultation.