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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Whose Fault?

From Robbie...

I recently adopted a lardge bloodhound from the pound. He was too awesome a dog to get put down, and besides, my other bloodhound needed a playmate.Being from the pound, I was required to have him neutered. The procedure went well, but something did go wrong. His scrotum had swollen immensely, and so two days later they did an emergency surgery to remove it. Afterwards, the vet explained that the problem was one vein he had tied off wasn't tied tight enough and had filled the scrotum with blood. I know very well that mistakes happen, and I'm just glad the problem was resolved. However, this surgery drove the total cost up quite a bit. Times are tough and frankly, I can't afford it, but the vet is charging me full for both surgeries. I don't really see this as fair because the second surgery resulted from his mistake during the first. Do I have any options? Thank you. 

About 12 years ago my father collapsed in his bathroom and my mother called the paramedics. When he got to the hospital the doctors worried that he was having a heart attack and placed a catheter into his artery.  While doing so they accidentally tore a coronary vessel, causing him to bleed around his heart.  This required emergency open-chest surgery.  Thankfully, they fixed the problem and he's doing fine today.  And yes, the hospital charged a the full price for all procedures, including the surgery to correct their "mistake".  After he recovered, my mother was asked if she was planning on suing the hospital.  After all, it was their fault that he bled and almost died.  There was actually a good chance that she would win the suit.  However, my mother replied "Why should I sue?  They saved his life."

I really respected my mother for this decision.  I believe that far too many people sue in our society, and that people are simply not allowed to ever make mistakes.  My mother looked at the larger picture of the fact that the doctors had done everything they could and succeeded in saving my father.

Now back to Robbie's situation (yes, there was a point to my little story).  I have had dogs that I neutered develop a scrotal hematoma, similar to what Robbie describes.  All of them developed a swollen, bruised scrotum, though they did not require surgery.  Most cases like this will eventually reabsorb and resolve without further surgery, though the dog may be more uncomfortable than normally happens post-op.  In all of these cases I performed the surgery within acceptable standards and to the best of my ability.  If a suture wasn't tight enough or had slipped off, it wasn't due to neglect or inability on my part.  So even though this complication happened after I performed the surgery, I don't know that it was due to my "mistake".  Unfortunately, nobody can be perfect, even doctors.  There will be times that a doctor does everything correctly, but something still goes wrong.

Robbie, the vet does have a right to charge for both procedures.  They also have a right to waive any fees.  When I made my mistake (which you responded to) I chose to avoid charging for the second surgery, though I did not refund any fees for the first one. However, in that particular case I had accidentally created a life-threatening condition, though it was a once in a career situation.  Your case has happened to almost every vet out there, and is not life-threatening.  Was a second surgery even necessary?  I can't say, as I didn't see your pet, and I can see justification for and against a second procedure.

There are a couple of ways you can choose to act.  Because there is a chance that the vet did not perform the surgery adequately, you could consider a lawsuit.  However, I think it would be a tough case to win, as you would have to prove malpractice or neglect.  A slipped suture causing a non-life-threatening condition is a potential risk of a surgery.  However, I'm not a lawyer so I can't say for certain if it's a valid suit.  Or, you could take an attitude like my mother did and realize that the vet did help your dog, and had to use his time, equipment, and materials and it is fair for him to be reimbursed.  In the end, the decision has to be yours.