With Congress and the White House dominating the news, it can be easy to forget that a significant portion of advocacy happens in state legislatures. State legislation can seriously impact the veterinary profession, which is why the AVMA regularly works with state veterinary medical associations to protect, promote and advance veterinary medicine. Recently we weighed in against two state bills that would hurt veterinarians and their patients by allowing for the collection of noneconomic damages in lawsuits involving pets.
Currently, Rhode Island and Maine allow for the collection of economic damages in civil lawsuits involving the inadvertent injury or death of a pet through medical care. That means pet owners can receive fair compensation for veterinary costs, the measurable value of the pet and other financial losses. This spring, however, both states considered bills that would allow trial lawyers to pursue noneconomic damages in such cases. If these laws passed, veterinarians would be liable for damages for pain and suffering, damages for loss of companionship, and punitive damages.
Veterinarians fully understand the emotional impact of losing a pet, and the importance of the human-animal bond – for many veterinarians, that bond is exactly what drew them into the profession. But noneconomic damages aren’t the right vehicle for recognizing that bond.
Allowing for recovery of noneconomic damages would place an enormous burden on veterinarians by raising the costs of veterinary insurance, which all veterinarians need to have. Many veterinary clinics are small businesses with limited resources, and veterinarians can’t absorb these significant cost increases. Plus, veterinarians already are squeezed by skyrocketing student debt, which averaged $141,000 for 2016 graduates of veterinary colleges. There’s no doubt that higher insurance costs would have to be passed along to consumers through increased medical expenses for pets. These higher costs would hurt pets and their owners.
The AVMA worked with our allied veterinary associations in Rhode Island and Maine to send letters to the state legislatures opposing these proposals to allow noneconomic damages. We’re happy to report that Maine’s initiative has been rejected by the state legislature – a smart move to protect the health and happiness of Maine’s pets and pet owners.
Unfortunately, the Rhode Island bill is still alive, and other states also are considering permitting noneconomic damages. A total of nine bills related to noneconomic damages have cropped up in state legislatures around the country this spring.
The AVMA will continue working with our state allies to alert them to such legislation and lend our voice where appropriate to protect the veterinary profession, regarding both noneconomic damages and other key issues impacting the veterinary profession.