Medical Malpractice Does not Apply to Vets in Washington

The case Sherman v. Kissinger was just published by the Court of Appeals today.  It represents a fairly good overview of a pet owner’s rights against a vet in Washington.  This case involved a dog which died after being left at a clinic for a urine sample.  A much more intrusive method of collecting the sample was taken than the one described to the pet owner, a method that led promptly to the dog’s death.

Suit was brought under several theories, including the medical malpractice statute, chapter 7.70 RCW, claiming lack of consent to the procedure.  The Court reversed the trial judge and held that the medical malpractice  statute could not be invoked against a vet.

The owners must treat a pet under Washington law like they would a television set that was taken in for repair.  Under the law a pet is just like any other personal property.  The informed consent statute therefore cannot apply to the treatment of pets.  (Claims that apply to appliance repair such as misrepresentation and negligence can apply to claims involving a pet taken to a vet.)

The reason that this sort of issue does not come before the Court of Appeals very ofter is that damages are only narrowly allowed.  The general rule is that the owner is entitled to the market vlaue of the dead pet.

Emotional distress and similar damages cannot typically be obtained for the loss of a pet.  There are no damages for loss of companionship with a pet.  Only if the cause of death was malicious injury can emotion distress damages be obtained.  This of course would not be available in a typical claim against a vet.

There is also something called “intrinsic value” of a pet that can be a measure of damages.  The idea here is to award the value of the pet to the owner, as opposed to the market value.  This is a very poorly developed concept in Washington and one of at least uncertain utility to an aggrieved pet owner.

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