Notifying claims for compensation from alleged negligence
Section 45 of the Veterinary Practice Act 2003 (VP Act) imposes an obligation on veterinary surgeons registered in South Australia to provide the Veterinary Surgeons Board of South Australia (the VSBSA) with prescribed information about any claim for damages or other compensation against that veterinary surgeon or any other person for alleged negligence committed by the veterinary surgeon in the course of providing veterinary treatment.
The intent of section 45 is to ensure the VSBSA is fully informed to enable it to fulfil its overriding function under the VP Act of regulating the provision of the veterinary treatment for the purposes of maintaining high standards of competence and conduct by veterinary surgeons.
The obligation under section 45 takes precedence over obligations to maintain client confidentiality and any confidentiality agreements with other parties.
Failure to comply with this obligation is an offence carrying a maximum penalty of $10,000.
In addition, failure to comply with the obligation may be proper cause for disciplinary action against a veterinary surgeon
Criteria for obligation to be enlivened
For the obligation to report to the VSBSA to be enlivened, there must be a claim for damages or other compensation made against a veterinary surgeon or any other person alleging negligence. The phrase “damages or other compensation” means a pecuniary award to compensate for loss or injury caused by another’s negligence.
Further, the negligence complained of must be in connection with the provision of veterinary treatment. A claim against a veterinary surgeon in any other capacity – such as in their capacity as an employer or occupier of veterinary premises – does not trigger the obligation to report to the VSBSA.
For example, a slip and fall injury sustained by a client on veterinary premises which is the subject of a claim for negligence against a veterinary surgeon as the occupier of such premises, for example, is not required to be notified to the VSBSA.
The claim need not be made personally against a veterinary surgeon. Therefore, if a veterinary surgeon becomes aware that a claim against another person (which includes not only an individual but also a legal entity such as a company) in relation to veterinary treatment which that veterinary surgeon provided, he/she must provide the prescribed information to the VSBSA pursuant to section 45.
This is the case even if the veterinary surgeon is not personally named as a party to the claim. For example, if a claim has been made against a veterinary surgeon’s employer only in respect of that veterinary surgeon’s alleged negligence, he/she is required to report to the VSBSA. The same obligation arises where a veterinary surgeon provides services for or as director of a company if a claim is made against that company concerning the provision of veterinary treatment.
A claim need not be the subject of formal legal proceedings in a court of law. Provided it is a claim for damages or other compensation for alleged negligence during veterinary treatment, the obligation to report to the VSBSA is triggered. Notwithstanding that an agreement has been reached whereby damages or other compensation is paid to a claimant to settle a claim of alleged negligence in full satisfaction of commencing legal proceedings, the obligation to report to the VSBSA remains. In other words, the obligation under section 45 pertains to any claim for damages or other compensation for alleged negligence during veterinary treatment, regardless of whether or not it has been the subject of legal proceedings.
The threat of a claim being made does not of itself give rise to the obligation to report to the VSBSA (although it might trigger the obligations of the veterinary surgeon or his/her employer to notify their insurers).
Veterinary surgeons are urged to contact their insurers and/or seek legal advice if they are uncertain as to whether a claim made against them or another person meets the criteria to enliven the obligation to provide prescribed information to the VSBSA pursuant to section 45 of the VP Act.
If a claim meeting the above criteria has been made against a veterinary surgeon, he/she is required to provide the prescribed information about the claim to the VSBSA at two stages.
Regulation 7 of the Veterinary Practice Regulations 2017 (Regulations) sets out the information which is required to be given to the VSBSA about a claim. Different information is required to be given at each of the two stages.
The VSBSA requests that all information provided pursuant to section 45 be given in writing.
Prescribed information to be provided at first stage
Within 30 days after a claim is made, the veterinary surgeon must provide the following information to the VSBSA:
(a) the nature of the veterinary treatment that is alleged to have been carried out negligently;
(b) full details of the alleged negligence;
(c) details of the place at which the negligence is alleged to have occurred;
(d) the time at which and the date on which the negligence is alleged to have occurred; and
(e) full details of the injury or loss suffered or allegedly suffered by the claimant as a result of the alleged negligence;
Prescribed information to be provided at second stage
Within 30 days of a claim being concluded or finalised by either an order made by a court to pay damages or other compensation, or entry into an agreement for payment of money in settlement of that claim (either with or without a denial of liability), the veterinary surgeon must provide to the VSBSA:
(f) details of the order or agreement, including the amount ordered or agreed to be paid.
Disclaimer: The VSBSA does not accept any liability to any person for the use of this information. If you require an interpretation of the VP Act and/or the Veterinary Practice Regulations 2017, you should seek your own legal advice.