The Effect of State Good Samaritan Laws on Vet Malpractice Claims
State “Good Samaritan laws” are generally designed to protect medical caregivers from lawsuits that arise from negligent acts as long as the caregivers have acted voluntarily (not for compensation) at the time of service. With some of the laws, liability only exists where the injured patient can prove that the defendant was grossly negligent.
In a case from Pennsylvania, that state’s law applicable to veterinarians was applied to, and barred, a veterinary malpractice case. In that case, a trainer hauled a client’s horse to a veterinary clinic late at night. Initially, the first veterinarian who saw the horse thought it was colicking, but when the horse did not respond to standard treatment, he contacted another veterinarian. In an attempt to make a diagnosis, the second veterinarian performed an abdominal tap (extracting fluids from the abdominal cavity by needle). Afterwards, at about 3:30 a.m., the horse was taken to the University of Pennsylvania for surgery where it was later discovered the abdominal tap needle had pierced the horse’s intestine allowing an infection to develop. The plaintiff horse owner argued the abdominal tap caused the horse’s death.
In defense, the veterinarian asserted the horse’s distress created an emergency and, therefore, Pennsylvania’s Veterinary Immunity Act (Good Samaritan law) prevented liability unless the plaintiff could prove gross negligence on part of the veterinarian. The court agreed and held “[the veterinarian] was confronted with an emergency medical condition . . . [and] acted with all deliberate speed and medical acumen to examine the horse and conclude that it needed treatment that could only be provided by a veterinary hospital in another county.”
Pennsylvania’s good samaritan statute, 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8331.1, states:
Veterinary Good Samaritan civil immunity – (a) General rule. Any individual licensed to practice veterinary medicine who, in good faith, renders emergency care to any animal which such individual has discovered at the scene of an accident or emergency situation or which has immediately prior to the rendering of such care been brought to such individual’s attention at or from the scene of any accident or emergency situation shall not be liable for any civil damages as a result of any acts or omissions by such person in rendering the emergency care, except any acts or omissions intentionally designed to harm, or any grossly negligent acts or omissions which result in harm to the animal.
(b) Definition. As used in this section, ‘good faith’ shall include, but is not limited to, a reasonable opinion that the immediacy of the situation is such that the rendering of care should not be postponed until the animal is hospitalized.
(c) Exception. This section shall not apply where the owner of the animal is in attendance and can be consulted as to the proposed action by the veterinarian.”
The Pennsylvania case was: Hoffa v. Bimes, 2008 WL 3126320 (Pa. Super. 2008).
Few states have comparable laws, but veterinary malpractice cases can be complex and time-sensitive. Consult with a knowledgeable lawyer if you suspect veterinary malpractice.
Categories: Veterinary Malpractice
Julie Fershtman is considered to be one of the nation's leading attorneys in the field of equine law. A frequent author and speaker on legal issues, she has written over 400 published articles, three books, and has lectured at seminars, conventions, and conferences in 29 states on issues involving law, liability, risk management, and insurance. For more information, please also visit www.fershtmanlaw.com and www.equinelaw.net, and www.equinelaw.info.View All Posts by Author ›
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