Veterinary Negligence and Horses

Equine veterinary malpractice

Horses are valuable assets, and the equestrian community places a great deal of trust and confidence in its dedicated veterinary surgeons. When a vet fails to perform his duties adequately and as a result a horse suffers damage, this is not just a betrayal of this trust, but is also an event that can result in substantial financial loss to the horse owner.

If you have been let down by a vet who failed to exercise the expected level of care and skill in the discharge of his duties, there are two separate grounds on which you may be entitled to claim compensation from the vet involved: breach of contract, and professional negligence.

Breach of contract

When you engage the services of a veterinarian you are entering into a contract which is likely to have implied into it a term requiring the vet to act with reasonable skill and care in the practice of his craft. If the vet acts in a manner in which other reasonably skilled vets wouldn’t act then he breaches the contract.

Professional negligence

Even if you are not able to argue that there is an implied duty of reasonable skill contained in the contract, under the case of Hedley Byrne v. Heller where someone provides a specialist service to a third party and it is reasonable to rely on that person’s expertise and skill, the third party will be able to claim for professional negligence if the service provider fails to act with the same standard of care as a reasonably competent person possessing the same special skill.

What kind of actions can constitute breach/negligence?

There are a large number of actions (or failures to act) which can result in liability either in contract or professional negligence. However, some of the most common are:

  • Failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis
  • Failure to administer proper treatment in a timely manner
  • Failure to respond adequately to an emergency call
  • Failing to keep up to date with changes in best practice
  • Use of outdated or discredited techniques, procedures or medication

How much compensation will I be awarded?

In all veterinary negligence cases, the compensation which you will be awarded is intended to cover your actual losses, although the exact extent of losses which can be compensated will vary between professional negligence and breach of contract claims. This means, for example, that if your horse dies as a result the vet’s failure, you will be entitled to the market rate for a similar horse with the same attributes. Where the horse was generating a profit for you, either because it was racing, was let out, or was involved in stud farming, you may also be able to recover lost profits and income. The recoverability of expected profits is greater under contract law than under the law of negligence.

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