What is the standard of care for a veterinary pre-purchase examination? This question was asked recently in the March 2013 California case, Quigley v. McClellan. In Quigley the buyers hired the veterinarian who had been treating the horse for the past two years to conduct a pre-purchase examination. The buyer sued the veterinarian and his medical group for veterinary malpractice alleging that the veterinarian failed to disclose that he himself had treated the horse for lameness and had personal knowledge that the horse had been laid up for a six month period. The surprising outcome of this case hinged not on what the witnesses said but on the questions not asked by the Buyer’s attorney during the course of the trial. Thus, the question remains, Although this case does not discuss what the standard of care for the veterinarian should be, it does demonstrate why it is important to hire an experienced litigation lawyer who is familiar with equine law issues in these types of cases.
The buyer’s expert testified at trial that, “the three critical parts of the prepurchase to me are identifying the problems . . . documenting them, and then explaining the relevance . . . to the potential buyer.” The expert then went on to testify as to how the horse’s problems were not, in his opinion, documented properly.
The jury found in favor of the buyer and returned a verdict of negligence against the veterinarian. The veterinarian appealed the verdict and the appellate court reversed it because the expert testified only as to his own opinion and did not establish for the jury the applicable “standard of care” in the community. While this case underscores the importance of hiring an experienced litigation attorney who knows how to ask the correct questions, it does not answer the question of what should go into a proper pre-purchase examination.
The Pre-Purchase Examination. For anyone who wishes to buy or even lease a horse, a pre-purchase examination (also called a purchase examination) performed by a skilled veterinarian is critical in order to gain important information regarding the condition of the horse you wish to buy or lease. As the Quigley case demonstrates it is probably not a good idea for a buyer to hire the seller’s veterinarian to perform the examination. It is even more critical to make sure the veterinarian does not have any sort of financial interest in the outcome of the examination. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) recently approved a series of guidelines for reporting equine purchase examinations; however, these guidelines leave it to the individual veterinarian “to determine the extent and depth of each examination.” Therefore it is critical for a buyer to work with a trusted veterinarian so that an effective and appropriate purchase examination can be performed.
Pre-Purchase Investigation. It is important to ask the right questions and do as much research as you can. Demand and obtain complete medical records from all veterinarians who treated the horse including x-rays, prescriptions and previous purchase examinations. Request insurance records and verify performance records. Provide these documents to your veterinarian for review. Discuss with the veterinarian the costs and benefits of various tests such as blood tests, radiographs, etc. If you have a particular concern you may need to bring in a specialist such as an equine ophthalmologist to look into some aspects of the horse.
Critical Questions to Ask. The AAEP has made a number of recommendations in connection with pre-purchase examinations. Make sure you tell the veterinarian how you intend to use the horse and make sure the veterinarian is “is familiar with the breed” as well as your intended sport or use of the horse. This includes both short term and long term goals such as breeding. The AAEP suggests avoiding veterinarians if they have a prior relationship with the horse or seller. It is also a good idea to find out the veterinarians’ prior history with the buyer’s agent or anyone else who stands to make a commission from the sale. Ask what procedures your vet thinks should be “included in the exam and why” and find out the cost of these procedures.
When shopping for a horse remember that while it is disappointing to find that the horse who you thought was perfect has a physical problem, it is even more heartbreaking to learn about the problem after you have already bought the horse.
Quigley v. McClellan was decided by the appellate court in San Diego County, California. Adina T. Stern has litigated equine cases in San Diego County and has represented horse owners on legal issue throughout California for over thirty years. In addition to litigating equine law actions, Adina T. Stern, a Professional Law Corporation drafts and reviews documents relating to the horse industry in and around Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, San Bernardino, San Gabriel, and Riverside Counties.