Liability stripped from Colorado bill; focus shifts to rabies control


Denver, Co. - A stalled state bill moved ahead after a provision was removed allowing pet owners to seek non-economic damages against veterinarians.

Denver, Co. — A stalled state bill moved ahead after a provision was removed allowing pet owners to seek non-economic damages against veterinarians.

The focus of the legislation is on rabies-vaccination exemption requirements.

After five rescheduled hearings and major amendments, HB 1308 was recommended to the full House last month.

In its original form, the bill would have allowed owners to seek non-economic damages from veterinarians when negligence caused pet injury or death; required informed consent for patient services that presented medical risks; labeled harm caused to assistance or service animals a felony; and allowed veterinarians to refuse contraindicated vaccinations. But it lacked enough support for approval.

Judiciary Committee members and Colorado Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) representatives partnered to draft a compromise version during a March 12 hearing.

The new language makes it a "requirement for the Department of Health to promulgate rules under which veterinarians can exempt an animal from a rabies vaccination for health reasons" with an owner's consent, says Ralph Johnson, CVMA executive director.

Veterinarians could not give more than the recommended amount of rabies inoculations under the revised bill, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Stafford.

The "Compendium of Animal Rabies Control" regulates yearly rabies vaccinations, but the state of Colorado allows local authority to determine vaccination frequencies — typically anywhere from one to three years.

"Citizens brought concerns to Rep. Stafford, believing that animals they owned died as a result of being over-vaccinated, which is the client's perception, not necessarily a medical fact," says Johnson of the reasoning behind the bill.

In exchange for CVMA's support of vaccination oversight, the bill's sections addressing non-economic damages, informed consent and living property were removed, Johnson says.

"We're pleased because this best serves the interests of animals and their owners," he says.

Several other states are considering bills that could impact the veterinary profession, according to an American Veterinary Medical Association legislative report.

One of the most common are state loan-forgiveness proposals. Such bills are pending in nine states, says Adrian Hochstadt, assistant director of AVMA State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs.

Seven states already have some form of loan forgiveness, including Ohio and Kansas.

Other legislative trends include liability protection to veterinarians practicing relief work in disaster situations, along with proposed regulations involving pet breeders and dealers.

(See the accompanying state-by-state list of bills relating to veterinary medicine.)

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