I've been sued. Now what?
Even if it's never happened to you, statistically speaking, you're worried it will. More than 77 percent of veterinarians are "concerned" or "very concerned" about being sued, according to the 2007 Veterinary Economics Business Issues Study. And rightly so. The idea that pets are more than just property is taking hold with animal lovers across the country. Animal law is being offered as a subject at more than 90 American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited law schools. And three years ago, the ABA began including an animal law committee in its tort trial and insurance practice section.
Step 1: Stay calm.
A lawsuit always follows a predictable, step-by-step process. Instead of panicking, just focus your energy on completing the next step—and try to find comfort in the fact that this is a routine and well-traveled road lying ahead of you. Understanding the process limits surprises and frees you up to continue practicing your best medicine. For a start-to-finish explanation of what happens during a malpractice lawsuit, click here.
Step 2: Contact your professional liability carrier.
Ask that the carrier provide you with representation. A malpractice suit can range from a simple small claims action to a complex case tried before a jury in superior court. You'll need an attorney no matter which situation you face. (Some states do not allow your attorney to represent you at the trial in small claims court. However, I still recommend hiring an attorney to guide you through the process—and maybe even help you get the lawsuit dismissed.) If you don't have insurance, you must hire your own attorney to avoid a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. And this is a good chance to remind you to get insurance before it's too late.
Step 3: Do your homework.
Review the pertinent medical record, but do not make any changes. Also write a timeline of the events leading up to the lawsuit. Do this right away so you don't forget details over time.