Alabama Veterinary Malpractice Lawsuit Dismissed After Lawyers Back Out Of Case

Joan and Gary Smith had filed a lawsuit against Theodore Veterinary Hospital and veterinarian Carl D. Myers in March 2007. They claimed negligence in the death of their 3½-year-old French mastiff and show dog named Razz.

The couple stated that they were entitled to a large amount of money because Razz was a rare breed and was in demand.

Earlier last month, Mobile County Circuit Judge Michael Youngpeter ruled in favor of Myers and said that the Smiths had not presented any evidence that Myers’ conduct fell below the standard level of care provided by the veterinary profession.

Defense attorney Marshall Gardner said, “It’s been our contention from Day 1 that the lawsuit was meritless. We’re very pleased for Dr. Myers. He got some bad publicity out of this when it wasn’t warranted.”

The Smiths’ ran into some problems when their attorneys backed out of the case, and they filed no response to the judge’s motion for a judgment.

The couple said that they could not continue the suit. Joan Smith asked, “What am I going to do? Do you know how hard it is trying to get a lawyer to represent you on a dog?”

It all started on February 1, 2005 when the Smiths brought Razz into the hospital for a hip X-ray, a dental cleaning and the removal of a skin tumor.

Smith said the X-ray was a requirement for a competition and Myers was the only vet in the area that was certified to perform the procedure.

A week later, the couple took Razz back to vet and said that Razz had not been eating. Myers treated the dog and sent him home two days later.

On February 22, Razz had his surgical staples removed.

In April, court records stated that Razz was running a fever and was lethargic.

Myers consulted with two professors at Auburn and felt like the dog needed specialized care. He recommended that Razz be sent to the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, where he died April 15, 2005.

Source: Press-Register

(Thanks Stefani)

13 Responses to “Alabama Veterinary Malpractice Lawsuit Dismissed After Lawyers Back Out Of Case”

  1. Don Earl says:

    It sounds like they should sue the attorneys for malpractice as well. Unfortunately, it’s even harder to find an attorney willing to sue members of the good old boys club than it is over a suit involving pets.

    I wonder why our public education system doesn’t offer any basic, practical courses in law? 12 years of public education doesn’t offer a single course on law. I receive pamphlets published by the local community college every several months. When I look at the courses offered, half of it is so completely worthless I find myself shaking my head in pure wonder. Why don’t they teach anything useful?

    Sure, some of it gets fairly complex, but it isn’t beyond a reasonably intelligent person’s ability to pick up the fundamentals. And, like a lot of things, having some basic information makes it a lot easier to work with a professional if one does need to hire one.

  2. Robert Davis says:

    Great idea Don! I agree the basics should def. be taught! Americans should not have to pay to know their rights and how to defend themselves or even if a case is worth going to court. I’m not saying don’t go hire an attorney but there have been several instances where we have spent days investigating legal issues that the attorney I spoke to just didn’t want to deal with. After I found out my options then I was able to make an educated decision on whether to move forward or what other options were available.

  3. JudyM says:

    This is in respone to all who rush to judgement against lawyers.
    Lawyers do not “back-out” of a case–they “withdraw.” This ill-written article states that the Plaintiffs did not file a response to the “judge’s motion.” Judge’s do not make motions-attorneys make motions and the judge respons via an “Order” (ruling on the motion). From the way this article is written, it appears that the judge ruled on the matter. It would then be the Plaintiff’s decision as to whether or not to, for example, file a Motion for New Trial, or take the matter to a higher Court (appeal the Order) The Plaintiffs lawyers may have made the decision to not pursue any post-judgement remedies, and further, it is possible that the Plaintiff’s could not find another attorney and/or appellate attorney that felt the case had merit. The Plaintiff must prove that the standard of care was breached, and in this case, it appears that the judge felt that it had not.
    This article gives us no information as to whether the judge was right or wrong, nor does it inform us as to the reasons the attorneys withdrew.
    There are many respected animal rights attorneys in this country.
    If you want a course on law and/or to be well versed in law, then I suggest attending a law school. As for the comment: “Americans do not have to pay to know their rights”–no, they do not have to pay. But they do have to expend considerable time to do a lot of reading, researching, and investigating–and most don’t want to or have the time. Yes, there are good lawyers and there are bad lawyers, but you can’t judge them all by this one article.

  4. Robert Davis says:

    I agree that there are good and bad lawyers. The explanation of the issues with the article were very revealing. My comment about American shouldn’t have to pay to know their rights implies that Americans or any person around the world in their country should do some research. It might take some time but once you know the facts then you can re-use what you know later. Law school is great if you want to practice law - but you can do some research on animal laws in your state without having to attend school. I believe Don’s mention of basic law classes are valid. I took a Constitutional Law class from University of Maryland when I was in the USAF and of course took a class on Business Law (both undergraduate work). But for those that don’t want the four year degree, it would be good to have these type of courses at a community college or community center. I have found once I learned what I needed I was able to bring that information to my attorney and actually help mold how I felt the case should move forward. In my case it dealt with a bad adoption agency and my own investigation into state laws, licensing, etc helped and I did not have to pay the attorney his $250 an hour rate when I spent a few hours making calls and reading state websites.

  5. Denise says:

    it just seems also like that when it comes to our fur babies, they don’t seem to understand how much we love them and how much they mean to us. they are not just animals to alot of us but family memebers

  6. Don Earl says:

    Judy,

    There are a number of places in court rules where the court has discretion to file motions, especially in a situation where no action of record has taken place for a certain period of time, which causes the case to go into default. If the plaintiff doesn’t respond, the case is dismissed, usually without prejudice.

    As far as going to law school for practical, basic information, that’s really out of the question for 99% of the population. For starters, it runs around two grand per credit hour, and simply gaining admission to most law schools involves jumping some pretty high hurdles. Yes, you can dig up statutes, court rules and case law with some rather diligent research, but the average person doesn’t have enough basic information to even know where to start.

    While “withdraw” is the correct term, it is by definition backing out. Attorneys are typically required to engage in reasonable due diligence before filing suit, or be subject to sanctions. So, iif after filing suit, they all of a sudden decided the case is without merit, they didn’t do it right.

    And, yes, there are some very good attorneys out there. Unfortunately, they are in the distinct minority. Plaintiff’s attorneys tend to be a cowardly and timid lot, especially on anything that doesn’t slot neatly into a heading in the Yellow Pages. Most of them aren’t bright enough to handle anything more complex than a parking ticket, especially if it involves anything like hard work and creative thinking.

    If you’re a rich, serial killer, ax murdering, dope pedling, child molesting terrorist they’ll be lined up around the block to get your case. They count themselves heros if they can put you back on the street and don’t figure there’s much to loose if they don’t pull it off. But, if you’re a plaintiff expecting something like real justice, well, Perry Mason is a fictional character.

  7. stefani says:

    What hits my heart about this story is the following statement:

    “The couple said that they could not continue the suit. Joan Smith asked, “What am I going to do? Do you know how hard it is trying to get a lawyer to represent you on a dog?”

    JudyM, while it is true that there are “so many” well respected animal law attorneys in this country, it is ALSO true that a) it costs a lot of money to hire them and b) it is also very hard to get them to take vet mal cases, with a few exceptions. This is because of the meagre recovery prospects even in an egregious, obvious case of malpractice.

    I KNOW how hard it is to find a lawyer to represent you in an animal case because I once was in the market for one myself, AND I often hear from people through my website who either CAN’T find a lawyer who will take their case EVEN THOUGH they are obviously going to pay the lawyers hourly rate (no contingency, no pro bono) or the lawyer tells them its almost impossible to get a malpractice verdict and their case isn’t strong enough.

    Mark Bluestone who got the largest award in the country as a plaintiff in a veterinary malpractice case — $39k — spent over $300k pursuing that verdict. I don’t think it’s being presumptuous for me to assume that the vast majority of people, no matter how heartbroken, no matter how obvious and horrible the malpractice even leading to the death of their pets — could NOT afford to pursue it with this kind of pricetag.

    Don Earl is right on this one. It’s not about going to court to pursue a ruling based on uncovering the truth. If the “victim” doesn’t have economic value, there is little to recover (this is increasingly so because of the popular “caps” on punitive damages sweeping the country).

    This is even true in medical malpractice. If you are a wealthy person in your prime earning years — yes, your family can recover large sums of money for your injury or death, so a lawyer will be happy to take that case. But when it is an elderly person on social security, an infant or child — in other words, someone who doesn’t have “economic” value in terms of lost futre earnings — you are going to have a REALLY hard time finding a lawyer to take that case no matter how obvious the malpractice. Because without loss of future earnings, the only “punitive damages” you can sue for are capped in more and more states — I think it’s $250k in places like CA where the caps have been adopted. One of Georgie Bushes brilliant assaults against “frivolous” lawsuits. Frivolous my ass. We’re talking nursing homes who negligently let people die, OD them with the wrong drugs, etc etc.

    If it’s that bad for people, imagine how ridiculous the situation is for animals — who don’t even have rights in the eyes of the law. For example, in my state of Maryland, the maximum you can recover for a pets death is $7,500 REGARDLESS of how it was killed. (unless it was a money-making animal). So, if a veterinarian with anger management issues throws your dog against the wall causing brain hemorrhaging and death, in front of a whole slew of peope who are willing to testify, the MOST you can get is $7,500. Even if you have had this dog his whole life and he was your best friend, and his killing was particularly cruel.

    This is why the ONLY way we can protect our pets is to SCREAM TO HIGH HEAVENS about our bad veterinary experiences and WARN other owners. And, of course, report bad vets to the State Vet Boards — but they are severely biased in favor of protecting vets. I got a ruling against a vet but that is exceptional. In many states 90% of consumer complaints to vet boards are DISMISSED without action, and NO, I don’t believe that all those 90% of complaints lack merit. In fact, in Texas, a man whose case was dismissed by the vet board went on to win a veterinary malpractice lawsuit.

    So people, do you best to CHECK OUT YOUR VET before you select them and SERIOUSLY consider any negative information you hear. Most “bad vets” are repeat offenders — they don’t change their habits. So if it happened to one pet, the risk of it happening to yours is high. And your pets can’t tell you, so you are going to have to use your eyes, your ears, and your brain.

    Once you have selected a vet, continuously assess them. Are they using only LICENSED technicians? Get copies of the records EVERY time you leave. Are they thorough? Do they document discussions with you? Are medication types, doses, times, and initials there? Are the people giving meds licensed? Is there evidence of procedures done without notifying you or getting your consent?

    Every time your vet puts your pet on a medicine, DO INTERNET RESEARCH. Is the dose he prescribed correct? Is this drug even recommended for the species? What are the side effects and contraindications?

    DON’T BLINDLY TRUST A VET. Because once your pet is injured or dead, even if you can find a lawyer to help you (and that’s very doubtful) — it will be too late.

    Need examples of what I am talking about? Visit any of the following websites:

    Bad Vet Daily: badvetdaily.blogspot.com
    The Toonces Project: http://www.thetooncesproject.com
    Vet Abuse Network: http://www.vetabusenetwork.com

  8. Jason says:

    After reading this article (and this article is the only thing I can go on), it appears that this veterinarian did nothing wrong. I feel bad for the lost of Razz, but it appears that this couple was only in it for the money. According to the article, they purchased Razz from a foreign country and only had him for 7 months. Yet they used him to breed 9 times? Pure breed dogs have more health problems than non-pure breed. Additionally, purebreed dogs purchased overseas have more risks. Could it be possible that this couple chased the dollar signs and purchased a sick dog? Dr. Myers correctly referred this couple to a specialists. If veterinarians are sued everytime a pet dies (due to unpreventable causes–and the vet acted properly), cost of pet health care will rise dramatically. If you think vet visits are high now, wait until they have to charge you more to cover liability.

  9. Stefani says:

    Jason —

    As far as I can see, there is not enough evidence in this article to tell whether or not the vet did something wrong. There is no information on whether or not he was stapled correctly; whether dangerous drugs were used to sedate him for xrays; whether he was suffering from a post operative infection that was or was not properly treated. The article doesn’t even say what the dog died of!! So how can we tell?

    That’s the whole point of getting your day in court — to have someone rule on it. Without more information, none of us can say.

    What bothers me is simply the fact that it is so hard to get lawyers to take these cases so they CAN have their day in court.

    And you are very wrong about vet prices going up. That is the lie the vet industry tells all the time. The fact is: Vet’s pay only $300 a year for over $1 million in liability coverage - far more then they will EVER need, because the largest malpractice verdict in the history of this country is $39,000. There is no need to buy more insurance and raise prices. As it is, winning a veterinary malpractice case is about MORAL victory and public record, NOT about financial compensation.

    Studies have been done that showed even if there were more malpractice cases and verdicts, the effect on veterinary costs to the consumer would be negligible — estimated at 12 cents more a year. I certainly would pay 12 cents for redress when I believed my pet was wrongly harmed.

    Stefani

  10. JudyM says:

    An Attorney earns his living being an attorney. He or she has a family to feed, bills to pay, etc., just as any other employed person. I would not expect any other employee to frequently donate 10+ hours of his weekly earnings, and so do this on numerous occassions? Most attorneys do a lot of pro bono work. The problem is not with attorneys, but with our legislatures. I believe there are only somewhere between 3-5 states that now recognize that our furry companians are not just a piece of property
    worth only what what we paid for them or paid for their medical care, but that our dogs, cats, horses, birds, etc., represent a part of our family. Those 3-5 states allow a suit to be brought for the loss of the pet’s life, to include the value of their companionship, similar to a suit for wrongful death for a human. Get out and voice your concerns to your state reps–tell them that you believe our pets are not just another piece of property, but are a member of your family, for which you should have a right to seek redress for their loss of life and loss of companionship. Teel them your pet has as much value to you as any other human member of your family. Organize groups to e-mail and send letters to your state reps. Don Earl’s description of Plaintiff attorneys sounds like he had a bad experience, leaving him bitter, and I am sorry if that happened to him. The majority of Plaintiff’s attorneys I am familiar with are dedicated, aggressive, and sustain a lot of sleepless nights investigating, reading, and researching–preparing themselves to zealously represent their client. As “Tweety-Bird” used to say about all the times “Sylvester” the cat tried to catch him and eat him–and failed–”He don’t know me very well, do he?”

  11. Jason says:

    My personal experience with any service or industry dictates that the price of services increase greatly as more lawsuits are filed. The liability insurance isn’t an issue know because pets are seen as property. Although I whole heartly agree that pets are worth more than any physical possesion (I would risk my life for my cat, but wouldn’t for any material item) I am against the idea of suing for emotional distress awards for uncapped amounts. Where would you draw the line? If I pulled out of my drive way and I accidentally run over the neighbor’s dog or cat, should I be worried about fighting a lawsuit? (even though it was an accident and the neighbor should have had their pet under control) I’m not trying to offend anyone (i’m just expressing my concerns).

  12. Stefani says:

    Re: “I am against the idea of suing for emotional distress awards for uncapped amounts”

    I am not necessarily talking about uncapped amounts. In DC last year, they tried to pass a meagre ability to recover limited non-economic damages (this would be the only way to recover ANYTHING for a pet who is not a purebreed or moneymaker — the only way for example, to recover anything for the death of a beloved pet you had adopted from a shelter.

    The proposed legislation was very narrowly written. It ONLY applied to veterinarians in cases where the DEATH of a pet was caused by RULED negligence or malpractice — and the cap for that I believe was $2,000. Then there was a higher cap for DELIBERATE KILLING (not euthanasia) of a pet by a vet — I think that cap was $6,000. THEY COULD NOT PASS THAT, the veterinary industry fought like tigers against it, and the best logic of the proponents — who had facts on their side, was not enough to sway the council to keep that provision in.

    I never said UNCAPPED amounts, but I do believe that some reasonable amount should be able to be recovered for the negligence leading to the death of a pet, or deliberate killing, and that is NOT the way it is now.

    STefani

  13. Tina says:

    I lost my pet to gross negligence/malpractice. I have been looking for a lawyer to represent me in a suit against the vets involved in my pet’s death. I have not been able to find one yet! The only settlement I would accept would not be economic but get the vets to tell me exactly what the diagnosis was, why the surgery, and why my pet died in 6 days after surgery. I AM IN THE DARK!


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