Whether you own, loan or wish to buy or sell a horse, it is inevitable that you will require the services of a vet at some point. As professionals, vets are trusted by their clients to give correct advice and treatment.

Unfortunately, this does not always happen and horse lovers can suffer as a result of a vet’s negligence.

Vets, like doctors, are classed as professionals and therefore owe a duty of care to their clients and patients. When providing their services, vets are required to exercise reasonable skill and care. However, a vet may fail to perform its duties in a number of ways, such as failing to diagnose or providing a misdiagnosis, failing to administer proper treatment, failing to keep up-to-date with the latest techniques or performing a poor pre-purchase examination.

If you find a vet has failed to perform its duties and you or your horse has suffered as a result, you may have a professional negligence claim against them. You may have a claim against your vet where:

  • The vet owes you a duty of care not to cause the type of harm suffered;
  • The duty of care has been breached; and
  • The breach has caused harm. This criterion is twofold as you must prove that (1) but for the vet’s negligence,

you would not have suffered loss; and (2) your loss or damage was reasonably foreseeable.

Duty of care

A vet is expected to exercise a reasonable degree of skill and care in his or her practice and owes such duty to all clients, patients and sometimes third parties. A vet will breach this duty of care if he or she fails to maintain the standard expected of a reasonably competent vet.

It is important to emphasis that the vet is not expected to perform what is referred to as ‘best practice’, just to undertake a reasonable approach.

In considering whether a vet has breached his or her duty of care, the court will take a number of factors into account, for example:

  • The vet’s level of expertise i.e. if the vet holds himself out as being a specialist in a particular area of practice.

In this case, the vet must comply with the standard of care of a reasonably competent specialist vet.

  • The standards of the profession at the time of the alleged negligence.
  • Whether there is more than one accepted approach to a particular area of veterinary practice.

Although this article mainly focuses on veterinary negligence, the same principles apply to any equine professional that you may encounter, for example, farriers, trainers, livery yards and even riding instructors.