Despite what most pet owners believe, even your dog could bite someone, under the right circumstances. Although you may have been taking your dog to the veterinary clinic since he was a puppy, there is no guarantee that he won’t bite if he becomes frightened. So, many clients ask, “what will happen if my dog bites my vet?” Luckily, the laws presumes that veterinarians know this to be true. For that reason, most courts assume that veterinarians knowingly take the risk of injury as part of their job.
What are the expectations of veterinarians and their staff?
Because vets are assumed to know and accept the risk of injury and should know from experience how to guard against it, veterinarians are typically not allowed to sue a pet owner if they are injured while treating a dog. The same rule generally applies to veterinary assistants, who also knowingly take the risk of handling animals in the course of their jobs. There may be an exception, though, if a vet unnecessarily exposes an employee to any particular risk of injury.
Examples of legal issues involving vets
One court, for example, overturned a $25,000 jury verdict awarded to a veterinarian’s assistant. The court reasoned that, there was no liability because of the conditions under which a dog had been treated. According to the court, the dog was “in strange surroundings … held by two people he had never seen” and that constituted provocation.
The veterinarian exception explained
Even dog-bite statutes, which make owners liable for dog bite injuries, typically do not apply when veterinarians are injured. That is because many courts take the position that, because veterinarians take dogs under their control, they become “owners” while the dog is under their care, which relieves the actual owners from liability.
Other courts reason that a veterinarian, by treating a dog, is more prone to provoking the dog to bite, and provocation is a defense under most dog-bite statutes. What many people do not recognize is that provocation does not have to be deliberate or cruel. It can be very innocent, such as a child accidently stepping on a dog’s tail.
Exceptions to the vet rule
As with most legal principles, there may be exceptions if, for example, a dog was known by its owner to be dangerous, but the owner concealed that fact from the vet. There may be a basis for holding the owner responsible if the dog injures the vet in that situation.
Dog bite laws in Missouri and Arkansas
Unlike many states, Arkansas has no statewide dog bite statute. Instead, dog bite claims are decided based on prior court decisions. Most dog bite cases in Arkansas are based either on the “one bite” rule or on some theory of negligence.
Missouri, on the other hand, follows the “strict liability” rule. Missouri does not follow the “one bite” rule. However, Missouri’s strict liability rule only applies to injuries caused by dog bites. If an injury is caused by jumping or chasing, the injured person’s claims will be analyzed a standard negligence theory.
If you have questions regarding dog bites, or any other personal injury concerns, call the Cottrell Law Office at (888) 433-4861.
He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.
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