Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard
Snow Leopard cub (7 mos old) - Cape May County Zoo

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Cat Dies From Peritonitis: Owner Demands $125,00

Dr. C was presented with a cat for lameness. The owner believed the cat had jumped from a height of approximately 15 feet and hit its shoulder on a table. Dr. C took radiographs of the cat's leg and found no visible fractures. Dr. C treated the shoulder as a soft tissue injury and administered pain medication. About a week later, the cat's condition declined. The owner presented the cat to another veterinarian, who diagnosed the cat with a fractured leg and a torn GI tract. The cat developed peritonitis from the GI tear and died. The owner demanded financial compensation.

Dr. C filed a report of claim, and the PLIT-sponsored insurance carrier investigated the case. Dr. C provided a report from a board-certified radiologist stating that Dr. C's radiographs did not indicate a scapular fracture and the the likely cause of the cat's lameness was a soft-tissue injury. After reviewing the medical records, Dr. C's insurance carrier explained to the owner that the evidence failed to prove veterinary malpractice and that Dr. C was not liable for the cat's death. The owner responded with an opposing opinion from another board-certified radiologist. Dr. C's insurance carrier reviewed the expert opinion but upheld its liability position based on these facts: Dr. C's radiographs did not reveal a scapular fracture, and when Dr. C examined the cat, it did not exhibit any signs of intestinal damage or abdominal pain; therefore, there was no indication to pursue additional radiographs or diagnostics at that time.

The owner filed a lawsuit against Dr. C for $125,000. The insurance carrier secured legal defense for Dr. C. The case and legal proceedings laster more than two years - the owner's attorney continued to make the case complex and employed tactics such as submitting a 92-page amended complaint, demanding a new judge, and filing a civil complaint against Dr. C's insurance carrier with the state department of financial services. The owner later reduced the demand to $75,000. The insurance carrier upheld its liability position, and Dr. C's attorney continued with the case discovery, expert testimony, and trial preparation. Before the case presented in court, the owner offered to dismiss the lawsuit against Dr. C in exchange for $1,000. Dr. C agreed to this settlement and personally paid the expense (because Dr. C did not consent to settlement under the malpractice policy). The suit was dismissed with prejudice which means the owner is barred from bringing an action against Dr. C on the same claim. 

Legal fees paid for by the insurance carrier to defend Dr. C totaled $92,895.

This is a classic example of how what we see on day 1 can be totally different than what we or someone else sees on day 5.
This is exactly why in vet school they told us to never be so quick to judge what another vet saw/did at THAT time. Each time we see a patient, it is simply a snapshot in time. Things change by the minute. I could easily see this type of thing happening. It happens all the time: kitty does something in or out and injures a leg - nothing major, the cat seems fine, so we send it home on pain meds,etc. AT that time, on the physical exam, there is NO reason to think anything else. But boom, a few days or a week later, something finally shows itself. 

This is why I stress to owners that when I want to do bloodwork a month, heck, even a day later, it's not because I want to make more money off of them. It's because I have literally seen a dog go from normal Sept 1 to diabetic Oct 1. I have seen blood work be good Monday and totally bad on Tuesday.  

This person has no clue about any of this and cost the vet and the insurance company and the lawyers countless hours and a pretty decent dollar amount to boot - not to mention the stress it put that vet under.

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