Cats, dogs, humans and the laws of inter-species violence in a veterinary setting
What happens when your pet bites someone while he or she is on the end of a leash or being held in your arms in a veterinary hospital? Regardless of the circumstances, the owner of the practice is almost always held liable.
But under some circumstances, you could share some of the blame: “Go on, pet him. He’s sweet as sugar!” is not a line that will garner you any sympathy with the judge if Fido has bitten four neighborhood children already. “That’s not a pet, that’s a weapon,” the judge may well decide.
Yet the hospital is still held liable to some degree—he’s on our turf so he’s effectively under our control. So if an employee, an owner or another client is injured, it’s our insurance that commonly foots the bill. That’s why we have business insurance that specifically covers us for these inevitabilities.
In one local case, though, the vet hospital’s insurance carrier is biting back. It alleges that the owner is to blame for the damage her cat inflicted on a technician—about $12,000 in medical bills. Predictably, the vet hospital is staying out of the debate. This is clearly the insurance company’s party—one we’d rather not be invited to attend.
The owners of said aggressor appealed to a local TV affiliate’s “Help Me Howard” (a consumer advocate feature) angry that their they could be held liable for the vagaries of cat behavior. Bolstering the owners’ case was the fact that this kitty was hospitalized at the time and was not in any way under their direct control. Moreover, the owners maintain that they always inform the hospital of her aggressive tendencies.
So how is this possible? Well, it appears the law is starting to shift more towards owner responsibility. And insurance companies will try any trick under their roomy sleeves to keep from paying out their claims. In this case it seems to me the hospital should be liable—but I’m no lawyer.
Interestingly, this case was resolved in short order when the “Help Me Howard” people found a loophole in Florida law that excludes cat owners from being held to task when their kitties attack. Got a dog in the very same situation? You might still end up in court. Feline? You get a pass.
While I’m gratified to hear that the insurance company dropped its suit against these owners, what’s up with this law? How, exactly is a cat so different from a dog in these situations? Is it because cats are so notoriously unpredictable and semi-“wild” that their actions need not reflect on their owner? I suspect so. If so, here’s another example where the law is outmoded and its ability to stay on the books strains credulity.
After all, most of us who work daily with dogs know that fear aggression is almost impossible to thwart in veterinary settings. How can you blame a dog owner for a bite and let the cat owner off easy when the same behavioral issues are at play? Makes no sense.
If you’re like me, this post might leave you scratching your head at the insurance companies, the lawmakers and all the animal-uninitiated lawyers that follow their lead. It’s almost enough to make you want to call “Help Me Howard” to help you figure out just where you went wrong in your logical thinking. Who advises these lawmakers, anyway?