Vet’s Negligence Did Not Cause Racehorse’s Death – High Court Ruling


It is all too easy to think that, in a professional negligence claim, a finding of breach of duty will lead to an award of compensation as night follows day. However, as a High Court case concerning a vet’s treatment of a promising young racehorse showed, any such assumption would most certainly be wrong.

The vet was called out by the gelding’s owner after he developed acute lameness overnight. He sadly did not recover and had to be put down. The owner launched a professional negligence claim against the vet’s employer, alleging that he would have survived had the vet not negligently delayed treating him with antibiotics. Her decision to tightly bandage the affected leg was said to have worsened his condition.

Ruling on the case, the Court noted that it was common ground that he was suffering from a bacterial infection in his right hind leg. The employer admitted, or did not resist a finding, that there was a negligent delay of about 38 hours in administering antibiotics. It also did not dispute that there was a negligent failure to carry out observations in respect of his temperature, heart and respiratory rate.

The Court found on the evidence that the vet negligently fixed on a traumatic cause of his lameness and failed to review that decision upon receiving blood test results. Her decision to apply a tight bandage without any proper assessment of the risks and benefits of doing so was not a course that a vet treating a racehorse with reasonable care and skill could have selected.

That, however, was not the end of the matter: the Court was not satisfied that, had he been treated promptly with the same antibiotics – to which the infection was not susceptible – and his leg not been bandaged, he would have survived. The owner having failed to establish that the vet’s negligence was the cause of the horse’s loss, the claim was dismissed.

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