Consider prevention as a way to protect assets


As seasoned veterinary practitioners, we pretty much come to expect the unexpected.

As seasoned veterinary practitioners, we pretty much come to expect the unexpected.

While other categories of professionals may occasionally see bizarrebehavior unfold in their offices, dentists, internists and chiropractorsprobably don't develop the thick skin and tolerance for the extraordinary,which we come to accept as routine.

We see pet custody fights unfold in our waiting rooms. Kennel workersfile endless claims for workers' compensation benefits just weeks afterbeginning their jobs. Clients put us in a position of selecting medicationsbased on price per pill then verbally attack our receptionists if theirpill vial contains two different shades of the same prednisolone. The unexpectedis all in a day's work. The mild problems you try to laugh off. The moreserious ones are generally managed by our malpractice and general liabilityinsurance carriers.

Unanticipated event

We deal with the unexpected. What we generally don't give very much thoughtto is the catastrophic unanticipated event. The tendency is to believe thatbusiness, personal and legal disasters are so unlikely, so speculative andso unimaginable that it would be silly to try to plan for such things. Asan attorney, I feel comfortable saying that the possibility of being placedin a position of having to deal with true calamity is, in fact, greaterthan it has ever been. There are a number of important reasons.

The American victim

There seems to be a change taking place in the philosophical outlookof a large portion of the population.

I hear evidence of this change in conversations I have with veterinariansand their staff members all over the country. It seems as though all elementsof society are undergoing this phenomenon which I refer to as the "victimmentality."

Today, the taking of personal responsibility seems to be widely recognizedas a character flaw, rather than a solution to events when they go badly.There always seems to be someone else who must be at fault; there is alwayssome person who, if pursued vigorously enough, will be found to have causedor contributed to our hardship. The common denominator in achieving satisfactiontends to be financial.

Of course, if you never do anything, you aren't at much risk. If youdon't drive or own a car, you can't be found negligent in the event of anaccident. If you don't undertake to care for the health of others, no onecan successfully accuse you of falling short in that effort. If you neverown a business, there isn't much chance that you will be found liable forinjuries which occur on your office premises.

But we are veterinarians: health professionals who have active businessand family lives as well as other interests. This puts us in a positionof heightened liability. In a world where many people are looking to ridthemselves of personal responsibility and many others are looking for afree ride and/or the big windfall, it simply makes sense to protect ourselves.Today, that protection means much more than simply trying to be careful.

Role of others

It would certainly be nice if we could be available to everyone, andmore importantly, keep tabs on everyone, every minute of every day.

It would be even nicer if we could feel entirely comfortable that otherswould use good judgment when we are "off duty," away from ouroffices, away on a trip from our unguarded home, sleeping when our businessproperty is supposedly vacant. Today, such a comfort level is nothing morethan a dream.

The reality: employees invite their intoxicated classmates into the workplace.Clients drive recklessly through parking lots. Vicious dogs get loose andseriously injure innocent children. Immune-compromised pet owners get bittenand hospitalized for extended periods. Partners sexually harass receptionists.

While catastrophic events are certainly not common, their occurrenceis equally certain to be economically devastating. Myriad recent eventsunfolding in the news only serve as a reminder that horrible things canand do happen. In fact, they only happen to two kinds of people: ones whoare prepared and ones who aren't.

Asset protection law

This is the first in a series of three installments covering the subjectof personal asset protection. It is sometimes difficult to convince clientsof the genuine need to consider taking preventive steps to mitigate theeconomic impact of a personal or economic tragedy. This series of articlesis intended to bring readers to the difficult realization of the genuinepossibility that they may someday fall victim to one of two disastrous events:

Excess verdict. You get sued and the recovery is twice your insurancelimits. It happens.

Successful disclaimer. Your insurance company hires lawyers to figureout a technicality in your policy so they don't have to pay. Before I wentto veterinary school, I worked for a New York law firm that did this typeof work and did it well.

Life-changing events

The startling reality is that either of these events, and a host of othershave the potential to change a veterinarian's life. If you don't believethat medical professionals can end up in bankruptcy and on Medicaid, youare mistaken.

The next two articles will detail steps which reasonable veterinarianscan take in order to maximize their protection against unexpected economiccalamity; not just from verdicts and disclaimers, but from potential personal,health, marital and other financial burdens.

The options range broadly from simple do-it-yourself ideas to ones thatshould involve accountants and attorneys. The only option that shouldn'tbe considered is to ignore the possibility of a huge economic loss.

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