HEAL seminar series, 30 Sept: Samantha Schnobel on ‘Tails wagging dogs and putting carts before horses: the importance of actionable damage in veterinary negligence’

In 2015, Meetings on September 28, 2015 at 2:36 pm

We are delighted to welcome Samantha Schnobel, a PhD candidate at Birmingham Law School, to lead the first HEAL seminar for 2015/16, on Wednesday 30 September, 1-2pm, room 4051, building 4 (Law). All welcome.

Samantha will be speaking on ‘Tails wagging dogs and putting carts before horses: the importance of actionable damage in veterinary negligence’.


Veterinary medicine is one of the oldest recognised professions in the United Kingdom. However, unlike their cousins in human medicine, veterinarians, on the whole, evaded the colossal shift toward external regulation and professional accountability. Due in large part to the status of animals being that of typically low-value or no-value property, veterinarians have enjoyed something of an immunity from external scrutiny, particularly in civil matters concerning allegations of professional negligence. It is submitted that a changing social climate and a profession which now, more than ever, deals with complex questions relating to medical treatment and ethics will challenge this immunity.

This, however, is perhaps putting the cart before the horse. Although I maintain that the veterinary profession will (and in many respects veterinarians already do) increasingly feel the pressure of heightened client expectations regarding the care of their animal, none of these issues will undergo legal and ethical scrutiny if claimants are unable to first evidence some form of actionable damage. The purpose of this paper, then, is to explore how the damage requirement could be modified to reflect harm suffered by a claimant-owner where the complaint involves negligence in the care and/or treatment of a companion animal. The current model adopted by the courts is to view the damage suffered as purely proprietary and damages are awarded in line with the animal’s market value. I argue this model is severely deficient. Utilising judicial and academic jurisprudence on wrongful conception claims and ownership interests in novel property scenarios, it is submitted that damage in the veterinary negligence context should be categorised as damage to sentient constitutive property. Under this model, the damage sustained by the owner-claimant corresponds to both a property element and, most importantly, an emotional harm element.

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