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Home > Dogs and the Law > Veterinary Malpractice: Suing a Veterinarian for Emotional Distress in Florida

Veterinary Malpractice: Suing a Veterinarian for Emotional Distress in Florida

Under Florida law, dogs and other pets are considered personal property.  This means that, in general, when a veterinarian negligently causes the death of your dog, you may recover the replacement value of the dog.  If veterinary malpractice causes injury to your pet, you may recover expenses related to reasonable medical costs.

Are Pets Mere Personal Property?

Veterinary Malpractice in Florida

But pet owners know that pets are more than mere property.  As pet owners, we know that our dogs and cats are not fungible in nature, like pencils, for instance.  We mourn the loss of a beloved animal companion similar to the loss of a friend or family member.  Pet owners have bonds with their animals that they don’t have with inanimate objects.

Nevertheless, in Florida, as in most other states, our animal companions are treated under the law much the same as the law treats inanimate objects:  as property.  Therefore, under most circumstances, a dog owner who loses his or her pet through negligent veterinary malpractice in Florida will not be compensated for emotional damages (pain and suffering).

Emotional Damages for Veterinary Malpractice:  Florida’s “Impact Rule”

The reason most dog owners will not be compensated for their emotional distress in cases of veterinary malpractice has to do with Florida’s “impact rule.”  Under Florida’s impact rule, a person claiming negligent infliction of emotional distress must demonstrate that the emotional distress he or she suffered came about because of some type of physical impact with the plaintiff. 

Florida courts make an exception to the impact rule when the psychological trauma and mental distress the plaintiff experiences are the result of seeing or otherwise directly perceiving a close family member get injured by someone’s negligence.  Nevertheless, pets are not considered family members under the law; they are considered personal property.  Therefore, this exception to the impact rule will not assist animal owners.

Intentional Infliction of Injury to the Pet

Intentional infliction of injury to someone’s pet is a different story.  In at least one decision in Florida, the court held that when someone intentionally injures or kills an animal, there is no need to prove a physical impact on the plaintiff. 

But the intentional infliction of emotional distress still requires a malicious intent to cause severe emotional distress.  The intent involved is more than just the intent to cause the death of the animal; it is the specific intent to cause extreme emotional distress to the animal owner.

In the 1964 case of La Porte v. Associated Indeps., Inc., the Florida Supreme Court stated, “Without discussing the affinity between ‘sentimental value and mental suffering’ we feel that the affection of a master for his dog is a very real thing and that the malicious destruction of the pet provides an element of damage for which the owner should recover.”

Veterinary Malpractice in Florida

Florida, like most other states, treats pets as personal property.  Because pets are personal property, compensation for veterinary malpractice is tied to the market value of the animal for replacement or the reasonable cost of medical treatment for an injury. 

Compensation for negligent infliction of emotion distress on the pet owner is not permitted due to Florida’s impact rule.  Compensation for intentional infliction of emotional distress will be allowed only with proof that the veterinarian specifically acted with malicious intent to inflict severe emotional distress on the pet owner.

Sources:  Bennett v. Bennett, 655 So. 2d 109 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995)(holding that pets are personal property under Florida law); Kennedy v. Byas, 867 So. 2d 1195 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004)(ruling that Florida’s “impact rule” prevents recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress in veterinary malpractice cases without proof of physical impact on the plaintiff pet owner); La Porte v. Associated Indeps., Inc., 867 So. 2d 1195 (Fla. 1964).

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Categories: Dogs and the Law
  1. Marky
    April 22nd, 2011 at 21:04 | #1

    These Lawyers just want more $$$$. I can’t sue for emotional pain and suffering if my best friend dies from “negligence” or even my partner, cousin or grandmother. Suing for a pet makes no sense at all…but maybe this is what America is becomming, a country of nonsense.

  2. July 17th, 2011 at 18:08 | #2

    And I thought I was the sensible one. Thanks for snettig me straight.

  3. American
    August 29th, 2011 at 17:51 | #3

    What a bs law. Personal property on life? Vets get paid to keep OUR pets safe and healthy yet they’re permitted to practice on them without accountability while making a nice living for themselves? What a crock! We the american people should not sit down for that!

  4. January 4th, 2012 at 11:54 | #4

    Until this has happened to your family you should probably keep your comments to yourself. Veterinarians charges are comparible to doctors and therefore should be held to the same consequences.A life is a life.

  5. loonysebec
    May 4th, 2012 at 18:19 | #5

    I agree. My dog was recently killed b/c of the negligence of the vet we took him too. This BS law has made my suffering even more. He was my friend and stood by my side through 2 deployments and now he was taken from me b/c the vet administered a vaccine I didn’t authorize and he was allergic to it. @RASCAL

  6. September 13th, 2013 at 23:22 | #6

    These vets are something else. They cry human /animal bond until they get sued and then it is property. They want it both ways.
    Simba
    http://www.justiceforsimba.com

  7. Charles M. Baron, Esq.
    December 12th, 2013 at 12:54 | #7

    Your article is not entirely correct. Because of precedent in the Florida Third District Court of Appeal (jurisdiction over Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties), you MAY sue for emotional distress damages caused by veterinay malpractice injuring a pet under certain circumstances. See Johnson v. Wander, 592 So.2d 1225 (Fla. 3d DCA 1992); Knowles Animal Hospital, Inc. v. Willis, 360 So.2d 37 (Fla. 3d DCA 1978). The impact rule did not apply in these cases. The First DCA (Tallahassee) disagreed in the Kennedy v. Byas case that you cite. Therefore, your article is correct only for Floridians in the 1st DCA (panhandle) area. In Miami and the Keys, Kennedy v. Byas DOES NOT APPLY. In the rest of Fla., you may attempt to sue for emotional distress damages, and it would be up to the Court to decide which of the conflicting case law to apply.

    Attorney Charles M. Baron, Miami (305)933-9292

  8. Charles M. Baron, Esq.
    December 12th, 2013 at 12:58 | #8

    Your article is not entirely correct. Because of precedent in the Florida Third District Court of Appeal (jurisdiction over Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties), you MAY sue for emotional distress damages caused by veterinary malpractice injuring a pet under certain circumstances. See Johnson v. Wander, 592 So.2d 1225 (Fla. 3d DCA 1992); Knowles Animal Hospital, Inc. v. Willis, 360 So.2d 37 (Fla. 3d DCA 1978). The impact rule did not apply in these cases. The First DCA (Tallahassee) disagreed in the Kennedy v. Byas case that you cite. Therefore, your article is correct only for Floridians in the 1st DCA (panhandle) area. In Miami and the Keys, Kennedy v. Byas DOES NOT APPLY. In the rest of Fla., you may attempt to sue for emotional distress damages, and it would be up to the Court to decide which of the conflicting case law to apply.

    Attorney Charles M. Baron, Miami (305)933-9292

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  11. paul katts
    April 15th, 2014 at 07:15 | #11

    Veterinary Malpractice in Florida

    Florida, like most other states, treats pets as personal property. Because pets are personal property, compensation for veterinary malpractice is tied to the market value of the animal for replacement or the reasonable cost of medical treatment for an injury.
    THEY SHOULD HAVE PEOPLE MAKE THE LAW FROM PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY LOVE THEIR PETS…

  12. Marisol
    April 21st, 2014 at 19:52 | #12

    @Marky
    Marky,

    You obviously don’t have a pet of any sort! My dog just died a few days ago due to vet error and it might of just been my child. I am devastated. Too bad for this stupid law but I am going after the vet for everything I can get. You have no idea what you are talking about. Shame on you for being so heartless!!!

  13. September 4th, 2014 at 19:26 | #13

    See my 12/12/13 post above.
    Attorney Charles M. Baron, Miami, Tel. 305-933-9292.

  14. Terrence
    April 24th, 2015 at 16:50 | #14

    This law that Florida has established Florida impact Rule does in no way measure the real compensation that is an entitlement to animal owners who dedicate their lives to providing love,shelter,and a happy home for animal to thrive in. I lost my loved pet rabbit named Thumper today 4/24/15 after a so-called routine check up at his Veternarian Hospital. He arrived healthy,no appetite loss or anything extroardinary to indicate he had health issues,soon after they drew out blood,he went into complications and died. I raised this rabbit and rescued him for an abused home,After several months of nurturing him back into trusting again (he shook for days and nights when I got him),he turned out to be a very sweet and loving rabbit with snow-like fur.I fed him only the best hay,cilantro,carrots,carrot tops,etc,to insure he grew up to be healthyHe was only 6 months old when he came into my life. During his happy life he used to share his food with my chow even slept with my baby German Shepherd at night and was playful and loving and he couldn’t wait for me to get home,expressing his excitement. It’s a shame that you as an animal parent adopt into your life an abused animal that is over-looked by others as a precious gift from God,give your life to them,protect them,form a loving bond with them,sacrafice the best years of your life to show them that people can still love them and then,you take them to a licensed professional organization that is sworn to protect pets,only to find out that they are in no way held accountable to any errors on actions taken by that hospital or members of it’s staff, that can and does in many instances lead to the death of your loved one due to negligence or incompetence,leaving the parent a shell of a memory of what was once your pet is now a hurtful loss. We can thank the members of government of Florida for the thoughtlessness and business orientated objectives they have when forming laws that only protect the medical industry and other businesses when they should be protecting the consumers unbiased of what gains they get by tailoring laws that meet just that criteria. The longer I stay in Florida,the more I see the corruption that roots in deeper each year.

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  23. Steve Rosen
    September 29th, 2016 at 02:57 | #23

    @Terrence

    I can totally relate to you. I am an animal rescuer with a 501c3. I had a similar incident happen to me recently and know EXACTLY how you feel. I can’t comment at this time because I am in the process of getting ready to file. We need a Florida State Constitutional Amendment that states that ANY ANIMAL USED AS A COMPANION ANIMAL MUST BE CONSIDERED THE EQUIVALENT OF A HUMAN CHILD IN A COURT OF LAW. BELIEVE ME, IT WOULD EASILY PASS THE 60% THRESHOLD. ANYBODY INTERESTED IN PARTICIPATING IN THIS EFFORT, PLEASE CONTACT ME IF YOU CAN THROUGH THIS POSTING. if NOT PLEASE RESPOND AND I WILL READ THE COMMENTS BY SUBSCRIBING TO THE COMMENT FEED.

  24. July 16th, 2017 at 18:05 | #24

    How do we get rid of the Impact Rule, hold these vets to a higher standard than that of a mechanic who works on your car and commits a wrongdoing? My companion dog of 11 years went to the vet for vomiting and I was told he’d recover in 2-3 days but the vet, UNKNOWN to me and without my consent injected my 20 pound fur baby with a total of 12 units of insulin which caused him to go into a diabetic coma and die. This dog was loved by so many people as he was certainly one-in-a-million. He was my child, not a piece of luggage easily replaced. I guess those who enacted the Impact Rule feel if they lost a human child heck just get another one. Had the vet who killed my baby Pico, given that amount of insulin to a human baby with the same weight KNOWING the baby had not had food, the human child would have also died. Pico died of malpractice, just because a person has a license and has a legal right to treat because of that license doesn’t mean he is qualified. NO vet in their right mind would have given a dog who had nothing to offset the insulin a total of 12 units inside the body weight of 20 pounds. The laws on the books are OUTDATED. This is now a billion dollar enterprise, our babies, and America is a pet friendly country. I don’t know anyone who adores their pets think of them as personal property. They are our children, each one unique with their own personalities and cannot be replaced by merely getting another one. It is insane and the laws in Florida need changing.

  25. August 11th, 2017 at 12:42 | #25

    I doubt it is possible to explicitly define the causal relationship between pet’s trauma and vet’s actions. There are few cases that can be 100% caused or not caused by the doctor, but the majority I’m sure are quite ambiguous

  26. August 14th, 2017 at 19:04 | #26

    I didn’t know that pets were considered personal property. I guess that makes any damage done to them a matter of civil law. Although, there are applicable criminal laws in certain cases of abuse I heard.

  27. Letty
    September 26th, 2017 at 00:23 | #27

    Sorry to hear about your dog. Did you get anything? My cat just recebtly died due to medical
    Malpractice as well and the pet hospital seems to careless@Marisol

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