Pets and Professional Liability: the Law and the Veterinarian

JurisdictionWyoming,United States
CitationVol. 29 No. 2 Pg. 9
Publication year2006
Wyoming Bar Journal

Vol. 29, No. 2 #9 (April 2006). Pets and Professional Liability: The Law and the Veterinarian

April 2006/Vol. 29, No. 2

Pets and Professional Liability: The Law and the Veterinarian

By Patrick T. Holscher
The state of Wyoming regulates 33 professions, including veterinarians. See Title 33 of the Wyoming Statutes. All of these professions or occupations, which range from Dance Hall Operators (W.S. 33-13-101, et seq.) to Uniform Athlete Agents, (W.S. 33-44-101, et seq.), are subject to professional licensure or certification standards

This expansion of "professions" is relatively modern. Classically, there were only three professions, those being the ministry, the law, and medicine. Animal health care, like human dental care, was a field practiced by those who had an interest in the topic due to other practical reasons. In the case of animals, the animals' owners or farriers did most early veterinary-type work. Animals were an indispensable part of the economy in nearly every developed country, but keeping them fit was mostly the task of their owners.

The first changes came about in the late 1700s when the first organizations and schools dedicated to veterinary science sprang up at the same time that medical science began to develop out of the primitive state it had existed in for centuries. The School of Veterinary Medicine in London began offering classes in 1791. In 1796, the British Parliament required the school to supply veterinarians to the British Army, due to the public outrage over the fact that more horses were lost to the British Army by ignorance and bad farrier techniques than to Britain's enemies.1 (fn2)

Progress, however, was generally slow, and veterinary science did not really begin to take on the aspects of a full profession until the late 19th century.(fn3) The rise of professionalism in the United States coincided, not surprisingly, with increased attention in the country to agriculture, the field in which most veterinarians concentrated their practices until the mid 20th century.(fn4)

Veterinary science has come a long way since then. Now animal health care, particularly small animals, is a multi-million dollar industry. Americans lavish more money on pets every year, and the variety of products available for pets has expanded to a degree hardly imaginable even a decade or two ago. Large animal veterinarians have become critical to the livestock industry in a way they were not even fifty years ago.

Moreover, the development of a fully professional veterinary science has resulted in the incorporation of veterinarians in the country's health care system in ways the public can hardly imagine. The federal government has employed veterinarians in significant roles since the Civil War.(fn5) Concerns regarding public health in the early 20th century have greatly increased the number of federal veterinarians. The Department of Agriculture, for example, retains a

significant veterinary presence in the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. A provision of the U.S. Code provides that:

The Secretary of Agriculture may develop a program to maintain in all regions of the United States a sufficient number of Federal and State veterinarians who are well trained in recognition and diagnosis of exotic and endemic animal diseases. (fn6)

The state of Wyoming has expanded the role of veterinarians in various capacities. In addition to having a State Veterinarian, the role of veterinarians in Wyoming extends from veterinary laboratories to playing a role in various health and animal regulatory systems. Veterinarians, or veterinary related entities, have a presence on a variety of state boards, including the Wyoming Animal Euthanasia Technician Certification Board and the Animal Damage Management Board. Suffice to say, veterinary science is a profession that is present in our day-to-day lives, and not just when we take the cat or dog in for shots.

The Veterinarian's Exposure to the Courts

At one time, veterinarians were not exposed to the threat of law suits, unlike other health care professionals. The old saying was that ". . . nobody ever sues their dentist or veterinarian." Well, that's no longer the case. Veterinarians do get sued, if still fairly rarely in Wyoming, and for those who have veterinarians as their clients, it's advisable to note their risks.

Veterinary Malpractice

Veterinarians, as mentioned above, are a licensed profession, and as such are subject to the same general standards in their fields as doctors or lawyers. That is, they are licensed professionals, who are deemed to be subject to certain standards of knowledge within their...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT