Professional negligence claims such as against a vet require specialist knowledge. In veterinary practice, negligence may arise where:

  1. The vet owes a duty of care – the normal skill and judgment that would be expected of the average or reasonably competent vet. A vet is expected to exercise a reasonable degree of care and skill in their practice. A duty of care is owed to all clients and patients and sometimes to third parties; and
  2. That duty of care is breached – a failure to maintain the standards expected of an average or reasonably competent vet;
  3. When considering the duty of care and the alleged breach of duty the following factors should be considered:

(a) The standards of the profession at the time of the alleged negligence

(b) There may be more than one accepted approach to the clinical management

(c) The vet’s level of expertise

(d) The vet is not expected to perform to what is currently “best practice” just that a reasonable approach has been taken

  1. That the breach of duty led to loss or damage being suffered
  2. That the loss or damage was reasonably foreseeable

A leading veterinary negligence High Court case was Blass-v-Randall [2008]. Randall was a vet who arranged surgery to a horse’s legs. One year later Randall carried out a pre-purchase examination of the horse for its owner. Randall issued a certificate which did not mention the surgery or any problems with the horse’s legs. After buying the horse, the owner sued Randall for negligence. Randall said he had told the owner about the surgery. The owner claimed this did not happen but her main argument was that the vet had fallen below the standard of an ordinarily competent veterinary surgeon by not recording that information in the pre-purchase examination certificate.

The court held that the basic obligations of a vet to the client are to conduct the clinical examination of the horse with reasonable skill and care and to communicate clearly and comprehensibly to the client the results of the examination, any relevant history of the horse of which the vet is aware, and the significance of those results and that history, having regard to what the vet knows about the intended use of the horse. As long as the information is communicated clearly and comprehensibly to the client, the judge saw no need for it to be communicated or confirmed in writing. The court preferred the vet’s evidence so the claim failed. The case showed that professionals do not fall below the standards of an ordinarily competent professional if they fail to live up to “best practice”.

Hanna Campbell

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