International Society of Primerus Law Firms

Explanation of Legal Duties for California Veterinarians

By:  Daniel L. Baxter, Esq.
Wilke, Fleury, Hoffelt, Gould & Birney, LLP
Sacramento, California

Veterinarians have a number of duties to satisfy in order to comply with the requirements of the law. Some of these duties include:

Providing Competent Care to the Patient

As a veterinarian, you have a responsibility to provide quality, competent care to every patient you encounter. This responsibility applies to every task you perform as you care for patients, including:

  • Physical exam
  • Diagnostic testing
  • Selecting a treatment
  • Performing procedures/Administering treatments
  • Aftercare
  • Recordkeeping

In order to discharge this duty, you must act competently at all times. Examples of negligence with regard to this duty include:

  • Failing to perform a thorough exam.
  • Misreading the results of diagnostic tests.
  • Selecting an inappropriate treatment.
  • Performing a treatment without consent.
  • Recording health-related information inaccurately

Supervise Staff

Veterinarians are responsible for their own actions, as well as the actions of their staff members. In fact, under a legal theory known as “respondeat superior,” you can even be held legally liable when your employees are negligent.

For example, assume an inexperienced and unsupervised employee is instructed to administer medication to a patient in Room 1 but accidentally administers the medication to a patient in Room 2. In this case, both patients may suffer side effects, and you can be held responsible for any and all of the consequences. Thus, it is essential to supervise staff members responsibly at all times.

Maintain Safe Business Operations and Facilities

As a veterinarian, you are both a clinician and a business owner. Thus, you are vulnerable to all of the same liabilities as other business owners, including on-site injuries sustained by clients, staff members and visitors. For example, if a visitor to the facility falls on a wet floor, trips over an animal’s carrier or is attacked by an improperly restrained animal, you may be held responsible for any resulting injuries.

To protect yourself and your practice, it is important to:

  • Develop procedures and protocols for keeping the premises safe.
  • Teach staff members to identify and resolve threats to safety when they occur.

For more information about Wilke, Fleury, Hoffelt, Gould & Birney, LLP, please visit the International Society of Primerus Law Firms


The general information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances.

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