The practice of veterinary medicine is quickly evolving: in a small animal context, the enhanced status of companion animals in society has given rise to some new legal issues for practitioners.
The practice of veterinary medicine is quickly evolving: in a small animal context, the enhanced status of companion animals in society has given rise to some new legal issues for practitioners; in a large animal context, the consumer demand for absolutely safe food products and notions of bio-terrorism create some interesting legal demands. In this regard, the following represents ten of the critical legal issues facing the profession in contemporary North America:
1. The impact of the human-animal bond on damages in cases of veterinary malpractice has been significant. Some courts are now willing to acknowledge the existence of the bond and alter commonly-held legal notions of animals being a form of "property". Some legislators are actively attempting to introduce legislation to place caps on damage awards. The impact on risk-management within the clinic is substantial.
2. The regulation of alternative and complementary therapies is a much-needed exercise for veterinary associations and state board from a twofold perspective: first, to ensure that the revenues for such services are directed to members of the profession; second, to clarify the relationship between veterinarians and non-veterinarians in the delivery of those services.
3. Much attention has been drawn to the profession as a result of outbreaks of various zoonotic diseases and concerns about tainted food products. The veterinarian must play a role in actively addressing these issues and understanding the liabilities that could be attracted for failing to initiate preventive action. New concerns for areas of manufacturers' liability and the role of the practitioner in the commercial chain of distribution are arising.
4. Demographic forces dictate that careful consideration must be given by practice owners for the succession of the practice to the next generation. The impact of women in the profession, the philosophical ideals of the "millenials" and the growing number of practitioners wanting to retire all require careful and thoughtful development and implementation of the succession plan.
5. The incidence of cases of animal abuse is being responded to by new laws creating more substantial penalties for those engaged in such conduct. The nexus between those who would engage in animal cruelty and those that would participate in elder/spousal/child abuse dictates that the role of the veterinarian is changing. The profession must play an active role in ensuring that clear rules are established both with respect to reporting abuse and determining when abuse is present.
6. Appropriate vaccination protocols is under much debate with veterinarians and pharmaceutical firms apparently at odds with respect to the appropriate re-vaccination periods. Clearly, this is an issue that will resolve slowly through the appropriate application of theories of informed consent to treatment.
7. Liability arising from cases where the animal owner, in both small and large animal contexts, has assisted in restraining the animal for treatment purposes only to be injured by their own animal seem to be on the rise. The appropriate warnings must be given to animal owners who insist on playing a role.
8. The enhanced role of animals in society has given way to legislative changes whereby animal "owners" are now referred to as animal "guardians". Indeed, the law is evolving to provide for pet trusts to be established arguably providing animals with legal rights. This evolution will surely have implications for the practice at many levels.
9. Although not truly a "legal" issue there appears to be some debate about conventional methods of veterinary practice valuation which will have a significant impact on current practice owners who are counting on the sale of the practice for retirement purposes.
10. Animal abandonment within the clinic is a regular concern. Animal owners faced with increasing household expenses often cannot afford veterinary services and merely fail to re-attend the clinic to pick up their companion animal. Understanding your legal rights and obligations is critical to ensuring that there is no liability exposure.