Can I Recover Damages for Emotional Distress in a Florida Veterinary Malpractice Case?Some of us love our pets more than we do some friends and even family members, so when it appears to be ill or injured, we trust our veterinarian to treat our pet with the utmost care. But what happens if you bring your pet to the veterinarian, and the pet suffers injury or death because of the doctor’s negligent actions or failure to act? Is there anything you can do?

Yes, there is: you can file a veterinary malpractice lawsuit against your pet’s doctor. Veterinary malpractice follows similar legal principles to medical malpractice for human beings. If a veterinarian- patient relationship exists, then the plaintiff must prove the following:

  • The veterinarian’s actions or failure to act breached the accepted standard of care
  • The breach was the direct cause of the injury
  • The injury caused damages to the plaintiff

Under most circumstances, a pet owner will be able to recover medical expenses paid to the vet for negligent services, and if the animal dies, they may recover the full market value to replace the animal. However, even though many pet owners love their four-legged friends deeply, and think of them like children, Florida law considers pets personal property.

Emotional distress from veterinary malpractice

In Florida, if a dog is injured or destroyed due to veterinary malpractice, the owner of the dog may not seek damages for emotional distress or mental suffering because of the “impact rule.” Florida’s impact rule requires some physical impact before damages for emotional distress can be considered by the jury. (Kennedy v. Byas, 867 So. 2d 1195 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004). Exceptions are often made when it comes to claims for psychological trauma over the loss of a family member, but animal companions, remember, are property, not people.

However, Florida does not deny that, “. . .the affection of a master for his dog is a very real thing and that the malicious destruction of the pet provides an element of damage for which the owner should recover.” (La Porte v. Associated Indeps., Inc., 163 So.2d 267, 269 (Fla.1964).) So, the court distinguishes between the negligent actions of a vet providing medical care, and an instance of malicious behavior towards an animal. In cases of the malicious killing of a pet, the owner may request damages for punitive and emotional distress and it is up to the jury to consider whether those damages will be compensated. (Levine v. Knowles, 197 So. 2d 329 (Fla. 3d DCA 1967).

The Miami personal injury attorneys at Yeboah Law Group, P.A. understand the love and affection our clients have for their dogs and other pets. Unfortunately, the recovery of the value of your lost pet or your pets medical bill is typically all the pet owner can recover. Though Yeboah Law Group does not handle Veterinary Malpractice cases, we penned this article to address the issue due to the numerous calls we receive yearly from concerned pet owners. For compassionate and tough legal representation regarding the matters we do handle, please call us at 1-800-TELL-SAM to make an appointment. You can also fill out our contact form to schedule a consultation today.