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A veterinarian is defined as any person who is licensed to practice veterinary medicine for the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of animal disease. In other words, the practice of veterinary medicine is defined by reference to the diagnosis and treatment of animals, animal conditions and animal diseases[i].

The practice of veterinary medicine diagnoses, treats, corrects, changes, relieves, or prevents animal disease, deformity, defect, injury, or other physical or mental conditions[ii]. Generally, the legislature under the police power prescribes the educational standards necessary to practice certain professions. Various regulations relating to the educational qualifications are made necessary to obtain a license to practice veterinary medicine. Some state statutes require that one who applies to take the veterinary examination must be a graduate of a recognized veterinary college[iii].

Sometimes, the legislature may require the parties who wish to practice veterinary medicine or surgery to pass an examination in order to insure the protection of the public. Some statutes provide that no person should practice veterinary medicine and surgery without obtaining a certificate from the state board of veterinary examiners[iv].

However, a veterinary board can refuse to issue a license or a temporary permit to any applicant, or suspend or revoke the license or the temporary permit of any person licensed to practice veterinary medicine who has professional association with or lends his/her name to any unlicensed person[v]. Although the disciplinary proceedings to revoke or suspend the license of a veterinarian or other professional are basically civil in nature, they may have penal implications, and dire consequences may flow from an adverse finding[vi].

A veterinarian’s license can also be revoked or suspended for the conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, immoral or unprofessional conduct[vii], permitting an unlicensed person to engage in veterinary medicine, gross malpractice, and false representations regarding surgeries performed. It is to be noted that the burden of proof in a veterinarian disciplinary proceeding is preponderance of the evidence[viii].

In order to establish negligence by a veterinarian, it must be shown that the injury was caused by the performance of a particular thing that a veterinarian of ordinary skill, care and diligence will not perform under like or similar circumstances, or by the failure or omission to do some particular thing that such a veterinarian is expected to perform under like or similar circumstances. A veterinary surgeon who undertakes to treat an animal cannot absolutely escape liability for his/her negligence because of the fact that the treatment is to be gratuitous[ix].

Similarly, a veterinarian who introduces an individual as his/her servant or other agent, thereby causing a third person to rely upon the care or skill of such an agent will be subject to liability to the third person for the harm caused by the lack of such care or skill on the part of the servant or agent[x].

It is to be noted that if a person practices without strictly complying with such conditions needed to perform as a veterinarian cannot recover for his/her services, even though s/he possesses high qualifications and acts in perfect good faith[xi]. Whereas, mistreatment of animals on the part of a veterinarian is a partial defense against his/her action to recover for services rendered in the care of the animals, s/he is still entitled to a partial recovery if some services are properly rendered by such a person[xii].

[i] Nelson v. State Bd. of Veterinary Med., 863 A.2d 129 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2004).

[ii] Ramsey v. Lambert, 2009 Ky. App. LEXIS 125 (Ky. Ct. App. Aug. 7, 2009).

[iii] State ex rel. Kaplan v. Dee, 77 So. 2d 768 (Fla. 1955).

[iv] Staniforth v. State, 34 Ohio App. 239 (Ohio Ct. App., Cuyahoga County 1929).

[v] Stephan v. State Veterinary Medical Bd., 113 Ohio App. 538 (Ohio Ct. App., Hamilton County 1960).

[vi] In re Kerlin, 151 N.J. Super. 179 (App.Div. 1977).

[vii] Newman v. Veterinary Bd. of Governors, 2010 Wash. App. LEXIS 1025 (Wash. Ct. App. May 17, 2010).

[viii] Austin v. State, 54 Ill. Ct. Cl. 375 (Ill. Ct. Cl. 2002).

[ix] Latham v. Elrod, 6 Ala. App. 456 (Ala. Ct. App. 1912).

[x] Beck V. Henkle-Craig Live-Stock Co., 171 N.C. 698 (N.C. 1916).

[xi] Rader v. Elliott, 181 Iowa 156 (Iowa 1917).

[xii] Smith v. Quayle, 258 A.D. 769 (N.Y. App. Div. 1939).