By Sonal Adhav
We lost our darling boy Biscuit yesterday. He was an 8 year old cat, and after some years of the vets urging to get his teeth cleaned, I thought it would be ok.
Little did I know I was taking him to die at the Vet.
The vets claimed that everything went well initially. They have him a pre-sedative to calm him, then put in the catheter for fluids, then the anesthesia, performed the cleaning. After all that they said he only needed little to moderate cleaning.
I was told they would call me at 4pm. I didn’t get a call, so I called at 4.15ish. The receptionist said the would call me back to confirm pick up time. After about 30 mins and no call back, I called again. Now the receptionist said come at 6.30.
When we get there, they call us in, and the Vet tech just starts tells us. Biscuit was fine until a few mins ago. They were trying to remove the catheter tube and while that was happening Biscuit when “agonal” (labored, gasping breathing).
His breathing dropped and his heart beat. They tried to give him CPR for 15 mins. I went down to see him and he was lying there. He never recovered.
We are in shock. We have lost our beloved Biscuit of 8 years over this stupid and unnecessary dental cleaning procedure.
What recourse do we have at this point? Should I ask for an autopsy?
P.S…..We are shell shocked as this happened yesterday around 6.30. I was never given a clear sense of the risks ever. By any of the vets urging me to get his teeth cleaned. They only stressed the risks of not cleaning the teeth which could lead to all sorts of gum disease or extractions later, and I feel those risks were definitely overblown. Before admitting him yesterday I actually went thru a checklist of questions about the anesthesia protocol etc and they answered my questions pretty well.
I think suing in medical negligence is not going to work. You have to prove that the vet’s conduct was below the standard of a normal competent veterinarian. That’ll be hard to do because they’ll argue that things go wrong sometimes even if the vet is good. There has to be clear negligence and that does not seem to present.
“A veterinarian must exercise the care and diligence ordinarily exercised by skilled veterinarians”
Can you prove that the vet did not meet this standard? Even if you can it’ll be a tough journey through the courts and they’ll defend with commitment and pots of money paid by an insurance company. Sadly it is not wort it. If you did sue in negligence you would do an autopsy. If you sue in contract, I don’t think it is necessary but check with a lawyer.
What interests me is suing in contract rather then in medical negligence (a tort). I have mentioned this before in a comment. If the veterinary staff encouraged you to agree the operation (“after some years of the vets urging to get his teeth cleaned”) without fully explaining the risks (which although around 1 in 400 in my opinion they are potentially severe – death) there may be a claim in misrepresentation. They may have misrepresented what was going to take place in the contract which induced you into agreeing the dental cleaning. Note: the risk of a cat dying during dental cleaning is stated by vets as being 1 in 1000 (please check). This is an important number. It will need to be clarified. They may not be hard statistics on this.
“A misrepresentation is an untrue or misleading statement of fact made during negotiations by one party to another, the statement then inducing that other party into the contract”
Or there may be a straight breach of contract. The contract was to clean Biscuit’s teeth. It went badly wrong. The ultimate breach of contract in a way. It can’t be denied that there is a breach of contract and the misrepresentation is merged with the breach of contract.
The damages in a breach of contract of this nature may be higher than a straight valuation of the cat which is low (around £50). This is because of the emotional consequences of losing your cat. Damages could and should be in the thousands in my view and should include a return of any money paid if any. The amount of the damages dictates whether you sue in contract. No point suing for £50. Damages in this area are problematic but there is a trend towards compensation for emotional upset as cats are family members.
Important note: I am not giving legal advice. I can’t. I am simply discussing the matter. It will be up to you to decide based on receiving legal advice from a practicing lawyer.
My gut feel is (1) negligence is not a goer and (2) breach of contract is workable. Not many people sue vets in contract. I think it turns on what they said before the contract – the representations to get you to proceed without fully explaining the risks. That’s the weakness on their side. Ask yourself with great honesty if they misrepresented the risks.
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