Veterinary malpractice is difficult and expensive to establish in court, and the money damages are limited because animals are considered property in New Jersey. You can recover the economic value of your pet but not your emotional distress (except in extremely rare and limited circumstances) and not the pain and suffering the pet endured. You are likely to spend tens of thousands of dollars to prepare your case.
Another obstacle is that you will absolutely need to obtain an affidavit from a licensed veterinarian in your geographic area to give an opinion that (a) the care rendered to your pet fell below the minimum standard of care (negligence) and (b) that the negligence was the proximate cause of the damages you suffered, e.g., the death or injury of your pet. It is difficult to find a veterinarian willing to perform this analysis. You will also need an expert witness to write an opinion and testify at trial for a fee.
The bigger issue is that it is not often easy for a reviewing veterinarian to determine the cause of death or injury “within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty.” If your pet dies and you suspect malpractice by a veterinarian, you immediately should obtain a necropsy (like an autopsy) from an independent facility, such as a veterinary school. If you have already cremated the remains, you may not have enough proof. Even with an autopsy it is not always easy to prove causation. In court we must establish not only why the animal died but whether it would have made any difference if there had been no negligence. I call this the “but for” standard: But for the negligence of the veterinarian, your pet would have lived. This is also difficult to prove.
Veterinarians and their insurance carriers are not likely to settle with you but will often take an aggressive defense in litigation, forcing you to spend more money. You may think that a threatening letter from a lawyer will do the trick but this rarely has any effect.
The New Jersey Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners can take action against a veterinarian for proven malpractice or ethical violations. If you submit your case to the Board along with your pet’s complete veterinary records, they will review the facts and if they find it is warranted, they may bring a complaint against the veterinarian. There is no cost for this review but you are not going to be awarded damages.
For the above reasons, and because we no longer have contact with an expert/veterinarian who is willing to review cases and sign an Affidavit of Merit, we came to a decision not to take any cases for veterinary malpractice nor to offer consultations on this topic.
If you suffered a loss, we are sincerely sorry. We understand the grief of losing a beloved member of your fur family, especially when the loss seems unnecessary and avoidable. Your pain cannot be measured or compensated; nothing will really make you whole. The emotional, time-consuming, costly and painstaking process of litigation takes a toll on you as well as the attorney, who empathizes with your loss. Wishing you peace and comfort from fond memories of your dear pet.