Most of your clients have a very strong emotional connection to their pets. When you treat their animal for illness or accident they will expect you to take extreme care of it, and to do everything you can to help it.
As a qualified Veterinarian you also give expert advice on the care and treatment of animals, and your clients are legally entitled to rely on your guidance as you have specialised knowledge and experience that they do not possess.
If you make a mistake in your recommendations, diagnosis or treatment of an animal – or, crucially, if the owner BELIEVES you have made a mistake – the owner may take legal action against you.
Claims against you could include:
Even if you have acted appropriately and in the animal’s best interests, owners who are unhappy with the outcome or the cost of treatment may sue you for compensation.
Professional indemnity insurance is crucial for Veterinarians because you face a very high risk of negligence claims.
When you’re diagnosing and treating animals there is a lot that can go wrong. Since your patients cannot describe their symptoms you are relying on your own examinations plus the information provided by their owners, which may not be complete and accurate. In addition owners are not always willing to pay for expensive tests, so you may not have all the information you need to make an accurate diagnosis.
If an animal does not respond to treatment, or if the diagnosis turns out to be wrong, the owners are likely to be very upset (especially if the treatment was expensive). They may seek to recover the cost of the treatment, or even to sue you for damages.
The amount of damages awarded against you if a claim is upheld will depend on the type and value of the animal. Compensation may range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, while the cost of defending a claim, whether founded or not, may run to tens of thousands.
As a Veterinarian your practice depends on your reputation, so it’s vital that you have the resources to defend a negligence claim, which could do you considerable damage even if it is not fair or reasonable.
You should also be aware that your personal assets could be at risk, as well as your business, if a claim is made against you and you do not have professional indemnity insurance in place to cover the costs.
As a Veterinarian you need both public liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance cover.
Your public liability covers you if someone is hurt on your premises, and also covers you for any physical damage you may cause to another person or their property. However, it won’t give you any protection against professional negligence claims if a client believes you have not taken proper care of their pet.
Your professional indemnity policy covers the legal costs of defending yourself or your practice against a negligence claim, whether or not the claim is successful. Professional indemnity insurance also covers you for any compensation you are required to pay if a claim is upheld, up to the limit in your policy.
The annual cost of your professional indemnity insurance will be influenced by a number of factors, such as:
If you wish to incorporate additional features into your cover, such as automatic reinstatement, retroactive protection or runoff cover, the cost of your policy will be higher.
A client brought his dog to a Veterinary Hospital with severe vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and lethargy. The Veterinarian suspected an intestinal blockage and immediately placed the dog on fluid therapy.
He decided to x-ray the dog to verify his diagnosis. The x-ray revealed that there was indeed a blockage and he performed surgery to remove it. The surgery was successful and the dog returned home the next day. However, two days later it died from septic peritonitis.
The final bill for the dog’s fluid treatment, x-ray, surgery and after-care was almost $9,000 and the owner did not hold pet insurance. When the dog died the owner decided to take legal action against the Veterinarian, claiming that the dog had died as a result of negligence during the operation, and seeking to recover the cost of the treatment, plus compensation of the loss of his dog.
The negligence claim against the Veterinarian was dismissed as it was found that the dog’s death was the result of the initial blockage, not of an error made during surgery. The $18,000 legal costs incurred by the Veterinarian in defending the claim were covered by his professional indemnity insurance.
If you are practicing as a Veterinarian in Australia, offering any of the following services, it’s vital that you protect yourself from the risk of negligence claims with adequate professional indemnity insurance:
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