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Veterinarians, dog bites and the law: Facts you should know

In many cases, a veterinarian can end up being an important part of a lawsuit involving a dog bite. This is why:

1. Veterinarians and their staff are generally fairly familiar with the dogs in their care. In many cases, the vet may have known the dog since it was a pup. That means that there are often notes in the dog's record about problem behaviors. For example, if the dog has been medicated in the past for anxiety or aggression, that would be reflected in the dog's medical chart -- and it could go a long way toward rebutting the owner's assertion that you must have been taunting or teasing the animal before it bit.

2. A medical record may indicates that the dog has bitten before -- which may not be something that's reflected in public records. For example, the dog may have bitten his owner, the veterinarian or one of the veterinarian's staff members. In all of those cases, there's unlikely to be a police record of the event -- the owner isn't likely to file a report on his or her own dog and the vet and the vet's staff are assumed to accept a certain amount of risk by their very occupation. However, a previous bite could indicate that the owner knew the animal was vicious and didn't take the right steps to protect other people. That may open up the case to punitive damages, which are designed to punish the defendant for being exceptionally negligent and discourage others from acting in a similar manner.

3. It's possible that the veterinarian may also bear some liability for your injuries. If the dog that bit you had been treated for aggression with medication designed to reduce anxiety or other unwanted behavior, there's good reason to question how carefully the veterinarian explained the limitations of the medication to the dog's owner. It's possible that the dog owner thought that the medication made the dog safe to be around other people because the vet didn't make it clear that the medication wasn't a guarantee of good behavior.

It's always important to try to find out the name of the veterinarian that cared for the dog that bit you -- it could end up being critical to your case! An attorney can provide more information about dog bite cases.

Source:, "Dog bite law - Protecting yourself, your staff, your clients and the dog (Proceedings)," Benjamin L. Hart, DVM, PhD, DACVB, Lynette A. Hart, PhD, accessed Aug. 09, 2017

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