Veterinarians may have several legal defenses to claims of malpractice. One of the most important procedural defenses is that of the statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is a state law that puts a limit on the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit, usually from the time the injury occurred or when he or she discovered the injury. If the statute of limitations runs out before the lawsuit is filed, then no legal action may be taken.  Any attempt to do so will result in the judge dismissing the suit without hearing the merits of the claim. In order to "toll" the statute of limitations (i.e. make the limitations period stop running), the plaintiff must actually file suit.  Demand letters sent to the vet or the verbal notification of a future claim do not act to toll the statute of limitations.

With veterinary malpractice cases for injury to or death of a horse, the applicable statute of limitations may be based on claims for injury to personal property in that state, as domestic animals are considered personal property of the owner.  Those cases usually have a statute of limitations of four (4) years.

For states that include veterinarians under the list of professions covered by malpractice statutes, they may be based upon statutes that set time limits for malpractice. These statues of limitations are usually shorter, typically two (2) years.

For instance, Georgia law provides a two (2) year statute of limitations for medical malpractice actions.  However, veterinarians are not included in the definition of malpractice actions, because those involve injuries to people only.  Georgia has a four (4) year statute of limitations for injuries to personal property, which would arguably apply to a veterinary malpractice claim brought in Georgia.

Importantly, the manner in which a plaintiff pleads his or her claim (i.e., whether he or she claims common negligence or malpractice) may dictate the statute of limitations.  If a negligence claim is not barred by limitations and a malpractice action is barred, a court would allow the negligence action to go forward and dismiss the malpractice action.

For more information on vet malpractice actions and the applicable statute of limitations, see Veterinarian Malpractice by Davis S. Favre.

  • Ashley

    Hi! I am hopeing to get a response and maybe some insight into my predicement. I bought a horse 3 years ago and had a full prepurchase exam performed by my vet at the time. In the exam we did x-rays which later had to be re done because they did not come out clearly, he did them again and said that they were fine, he gave him a passing grade and despite horriable feet which I had concerns about said that they would cause no problem that they were just over due, trusting the perfossional oppion I bought him. At that time I bought him as a big eq prospect so he came with a larger price tag. I was told there were no previous soundness issues, though the lady I bought him from had him only for 6 months and preformed no prepurchase exam before buying him. Since I have gotten him he has had on and off lamness problems ranging from being very sound to be very lame. I had my vet (the same one who did the prepurchase exam) look at him probably every few weeks and it was always a stone bruise, or something very minor. It never got better (or if it did he never stayed sound for long). I decided to get a second oppinon and when I asked for a copy of the x-rays I was told they were lost, (9 months after they were taken). I got a second oppionon and found some pretty signifigent things on the new x-rays, but this vet was unsure really as to what they were and diagnossed him with early navicular. I treated him the way they had told me and got the ok to bring him back to work after he went sound for a few months. Once again after about 3 months of soundness he was off again and stayed off, I had another vet come and he said it was his suspensory and did no radiographs (he was non reactive to hoof testers, so the vet did not believe it was navicular) took care of that and once again we went thorugh the same process we gave him 8 months of rest, his susponsry was fully healed and started brining him back to work, 3 months later (1 month ago) he came up lame again and for the past 4 weeks never got better, the diagnosis was a stone bruise, I once again was not convince and if it was wondering why he was always getting stone bruises (we took special care of his feet, had an amazing farrier working with him, got very good and very expensive fiber glass shoes and had moved him to a place with very few rocks). Finnaly I said enough, I’m tired of being jerked around and got a very highly recomended vet group to come out to look at him yesterday. The news was not good, we did digital radiographs and found that he had bilateral navicular, laminities, and must of foundered as a yearling during bone devlopment as his coffin bone was completly rotated and curved upwards (a deformity that seemed to have been there for at least 4-5 years, he is 8 now), he also has other major conformation faults that have been there from a youngster and other deformities since birth. Because of the front end lamness he has arthrities in his hocks, his carrer and possiablity for a riding carrer are gone. We are going to do everything to make him comfortable and probably turn him out to pasture but the vets believe that he will be lucky to reach his early teens. I was devastated, happy to finally know, and now know what the best thing is for my baby but also completley speechless to the results, everything he said was that this horse should have never been sold as a “sport horse” nor should have ever passed a pre-purchase exam. The idea that it took 3 years to finally find out the cause breaks my heart as I’v been always trying to bring him back to work even though he must have been in pain. Although not all about the money I have put in about $15,000 into the lamness problem plus aprox. 36,000 in board and shoes plus the cost of the horse (who was bought with my college money with the intention of seeling him after I had showed him and worked with him for a profit), I feel as though there has to be something I could do to obtain some money as had he never pased the pre purchase I would never have spent that much, I would be happy with just getting the purchase price or a piece of it back so that I can retire him and get him the medical care he needs to be comfortable. Is there any chance I would have a case and if so how would this work? I live in New York state if that makes any diffrence
    Thanks,
    please help

  • Etassia Johnson

    i LOVE HORSES!

  • Thanks for sharing this information. It is useful and valuable.