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Veterinary neglect

Veterinary Malpractice in Ohio: Seeking Justice for Your Pet

Fighting for Accountability

Ohio Veterinary Malpractice Attorneys: Cleveland, Medina, Akron, Columbus, Fairlawn, Wadsworth, and more.

You trust your veterinarian to diagnose and treat your pets. But what if your veterinarian makes a mistake and that mistake hurts, or even kills, your beloved family member? In recent years, the field of veterinary medicine has become increasingly difficult to regulate. In the meantime, pet owners are valuing their pets as members of their family and are spending more than ever before on specialized care for their pets as a result. Today, costs for many veterinary procedures rival those of medical procedures for humans. Sadly, the legal system has failed to keep pace with the way society currently values pets.

What is Veterinary Malpractice?

“Malpractice” is the term used commonly to describe a serious error by a medical practitioner.  Under Ohio law, however, the proper and more accurate legal term when it comes to acts committed by veterinarians is “veterinary negligence.”

Either way, the issue is whether the medical professional failed to meet the standard of care ordinarily expected from others in his or her profession.

The Problem with Recovery in Veterinary Malpractice Cases

The prevailing case law in Ohio holds generally that animals are items of personal property (like cars, toaster ovens, or lawn chairs) and damages for any loss of that property is limited to the fair market value of similar item of property (breed, physical condition, age, etc.).  Animal welfare attorneys are still trying to get courts to recognize the unique value a pet has as an irreplaceable individual personality and member of one’s family.

This unfortunately means that while “ordinary” household pets have a high personal value, they often do not have a high fair market value and may not even have a market value at all. For example, a twelve-year-old, spayed, mixed-breed dog with cancer that you have had for many years has an increasingly high personal value as a member of your family. In fact, that dog’s “value” to you has likely increased over time as your personal relationship has grown stronger. On the fair market, however, as your dog has aged and perhaps become sick, his value has decreased. The cost to “replace” such a dog in the fair market is probably under $100. Thus, an aggrieved pet owner would likely only be able to recover that small market amount to “replace” the damaged property. In some cases, it is possible that an aggrieved pet owner could recover veterinary fees. There also may be significant market value for animals that are used for a for-profit task, such as show or breeding, or have particularized training, such as service dogs.

The law does not generally recognize emotional distress for the negligent loss of or harm to pets, which means there is no recovery for “pain and suffering” in these cases. Veterinary malpractice cases, while similar in theory to human malpractice cases, are not at all similar in terms of possible damages.

There is some support for the concept that damages for loss of an animal should not be strictly related to market value, and that any award should recognize the “value to the owner,” but this principle has not been widely applied or accepted in Ohio.

Pursuing Justice

First, pet owners should take all steps to immediately preserve evidence in their potential case, including by obtaining all veterinary records and a necropsy (animal autopsy) or examination of a still-living pet by a third party veterinarian as soon as possible. Taking photographs or other documentation of the pet’s condition may also be important.

As a preliminary matter, an aggrieved pet owner can report the matter to the Ohio Veterinary Medical Licensing Board (OVMLB). The OVMLB is required to undertake a complete review of the complaint along with the veterinary records. If the OVMLB finds a violation of the veterinary licensing board standards, sanctions can be imposed, including suspension or termination of a veterinarian’s license. In our experience, serious sanctions are rarely imposed. In any event, the OVMLB complaint process does not result in providing the pet owner with any sort of compensation. A complaint can be filed here:

Beyond the OVMLB complaint process, pursuing compensation through litigation in these cases is complicated. A particularly difficult hurdle in veterinary malpractice cases is that a third party veterinarian must first render an opinion that the offending veterinarian acted negligently in their treatment of the pet. It is difficult to find veterinarians who will testify against fellow veterinarians. While a local veterinarian’s opinion is best, Joey’s Legacy ( provides contacts for veterinarians who will review records and issue an opinion on whether veterinary negligence occurred for a reasonable fee.

If a veterinarian ultimately renders a favorable opinion and you decide to proceed with litigation, the bottom line is that most clients who pursue veterinary malpractice cases must be prepared to spend more money in attorney and expert witness fees than they will probably recover in a lawsuit because of the limits on recovery in these cases.  Due to those uncertain and often nominal damages, unlike human medical malpractice cases, veterinary malpractice cases are not normally handled on a contingency basis, meaning clients must pay their attorneys and experts on an hourly basis.

A more cost-effective option in some cases can be small claims court, which does not require personal litigants to have an attorney. That said, a pet owner suing a veterinarian in small claims court is still required to prove certain facts, perhaps most importantly that the veterinarian deviated from the applicable standard of care, which requires expert testimony. Pet owners who appear on their own behalf are held to the same standards as attorneys and are required to be acquainted with the Rules of Evidence and how hearings are conducted. Most veterinarians will be represented by insurance attorneys or private counsel, even in small claims court.

Pet owners ultimately need to weigh the cost of an attorney with the potential cost of litigation to determine whether hiring an attorney to pursue a veterinary malpractice claim makes sense.

Because of the limitations on damages, most victims who proceed with veterinary malpractice cases do so out of a strong belief in principle.  They hope at a minimum to have the opportunity to make the veterinarian confront his/her errors in a manner that will hopefully prevent them from making the same mistakes again, to create a public record, to effect change in the law, or to seek justice for their pet.

How Can We Help?

The statute of limitations in these cases is generally two years from the date of the incident and if a lawsuit is not filed within that time period, claims will be waived. Pet owners should consult with an attorney well before that time period runs if they are prepared to pursue legal action.

Our attorneys are dedicated to helping pet owners who wish to pursue these matters. We can help you find a path to pursue justice for your pet that fits within your budget, whether it be assistance with filing an OVMLB complaint, engaging in settlement negotiations, or litigation.

Ohio Veterinary Malpractice Attorneys: Prosecuting Malpractice, Negligence, Breach of Contract, and more.

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Dog Owner Failed to Treat Pit Bull’s Mange

State v. Rionte Rees, a case we prosecuted for the Medina County SPCA.

Defendant was found guilty of companion animal neglect for failure to provide proper care of Babe, a 10 month old pit bull. Babe suffered from demodex mange and severe itching resulting in the loss of most of his fur.

Rees was sentenced to 90 days in jail. 77 days were suspended. He was credited for 13 days served. He was placed on probation for 2 years, and is required to pay $177.50 restitution. He is prohibited from owning, possessing or living at a residence with animals, and must submit to random inspections.

Babe 8 Weeks After Rescue

Babe, After 8 Weeks of Care Following Rescue

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Jailtime for Man Convicted of 9 Counts of Companion Animal Cruelty

State v. David Taylor a case we prosecuted for the Lake Humane Society resulting in a lifetime ban from keeping companion animals.

Taylor was convicted in the Willoughby Municipal Court of 9 counts of companion animal cruelty after trial for neglecting his three dogs, who were kept in a cluttered, dirty yard full of debris, including broken glass and nails. They suffered from severe flea infestation, open abrasions, bacterial infection, severe ear mites, fly strikes and whipworms.

In addition to the ban on keeping animals, Taylor was sentenced to 90 days in jail, 45 of which was suspended pending successful completion of one year probation including mental health assessment and treatment. He was fined $750 of which $500 is suspended.

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Owner Convicted for Neglecting Dog’s Severe Skin Condition

State v. Christopher Overton, a case we prosecuted in Youngstown investigated by Animal Charity of Ohio, the Humane Society which serves Mahoning County.

Mr. Overton had three dogs. Two were in good condition. The third had an extreme untreated skin condition which caused large sections of skin to be red, raw and bloody. Blood and flesh were found on the collar when it was removed.

Overton surrendered the dog to Animal Charity. Today he plead guilty to companion animal cruelty. Overton will be on probation for three years, and will be subjected to random inspections to make sure that he is providing proper care for his remaining dogs. He is not permitted to have other animals. He will pay $500 for the rehabilitation and care of this dog. If he violates any of these terms, he may be ordered to serve up to 90 days in jail.

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Jail Time and Community Service Sentence for Animal Neglect Case

State of Ohio v. Travis Wargo and Cari Welk, a case prosecuted for Lake Humane Society.

Wargo and Welk both pled guilty to animal neglect. The case involved two cats, Liam and Logan, and a dog, Lily, that were kept in deplorable conditions.The animals suffered from various untreated medical conditions. While the other animals were of good weight, Liam the cat was so painfully emaciated that when offered dog treats by the Humane Agent, he scarfed them so fast he was throwing up while he was eating them.

Both Defendants were sentenced to 5 years of probation, during which time they cannot own or harbor any animals. Lake Humane Society will conduct inspections to ensure compliance. Wargo and Welk will have to pay court costs and $3,030.00 in restitution for care of the animals to Lake Humane. Both Wargo and Welk were sentenced to serve 4 days in jail or complete 4 days of community work service. If they fail to comply with these conditions, Wargo will face an additional 356 days in jail and Welk 86 days.

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24 Animals Found in Filthy Conditions, Owner Sentenced to 5 years Probation

State of Ohio v. Sheri (Shari) Gilbert, a case prosecuted for Lake Humane Society.

Gilbert pled guilty to all 10 counts of animal neglect on the day of trial. 24 animals, including dogs, cats, parrots, a guinea pig, and ferrets, were seized from Gilbert’s home. The animals were kept in deplorable conditions and suffered from a variety of medical conditions. The foul smell of the residence was described as “beyond words.”

Gilbert was sentenced to 5 years of probation, during which time she cannot own, keep, or reside with any animal. She will undergo random inspections by Lake Humane to ensure that she is not harboring any animals. She must undergo a mental health assessment and complete recommended treatment. Gilbert paid $4,500 for the care of the 24 animals and must pay court costs. If she fails to comply with these conditions, she will face 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.


Alla, one of the dogs rescued by Lake Humane, was successfully treated and adopted.

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Maximum Community Service Sentence for Summit County Animal Neglect Case

State of Ohio v. Sandra Kay Benedum, a case prosecuted for Pawsibilities Humane Society of Greater Akron and also handled by the Summit County Dog Warden.

Benedum, 70, pled guilty to two counts of companion animal neglect regarding 1 dog named Tibet. Tibet had multiple open wounds filled with hundreds of maggots when Benedum brought him to the dog warden for euthanasia. 11 days earlier, Benedum called her veterinarian to complain that Tibet’s odor was making her kids sick, but did not bring the dog in for treatment.

Benedum is banned indefinitely from owning, keeping, or possessing any animal. She will undergo 5 years of probation, during which time she must comply with inspections by the humane society or other law enforcement. She must also complete 400 hours of community service, the maximum for second degree misdemeanors, and pay court costs. If she violates those terms, she faces 180 days in jail.

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Fine for Animal Cruelty to Lemur

State of Ohio v. Jennifer Toth, a case prosecuted for the Cleveland Animal Protective League.

Toth was charged with one count of animal cruelty related to a Lemur named Nova that had an untreated broken leg. The leg was broken at the time Toth purchased the animal.

Toth pled to one count of attempted cruelty to animals. Toth agreed not to keep any more exotic animals is limited to two spayed/neutered dogs, two male guinea pigs, and a turtle for one and half years. There was no evidence that the non-exotic animals were not being cared for properly.

Additional provisions include payment of court costs, a $250 fine, and $1,109.90 in restitution, representing the cost of amputation of the lemur Nova’s leg. Toth is subject to random inspections and must keep all animals in a humane, lawful, and sanitary manner. She faces 45 days in jail if she fails to comply.

Nova recovered and was sent to a lemur sanctuary.

Nova the Lemur

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Jail Time for Probation Violator; Mother also Pleaded Guilty of Animal Neglect

State of Ohio v. Darlene and Alyssa Morrow, a case prosecuted for Lake Humane Society.

Darlene and Alyssa Morrow were each charged with neglect related to the care of Alyssa’s dog, Honey. Alyssa Morrow was previously convicted of animal neglect in a case prosecuted by the Painesville Police just 4 days before this incident occurred. As part of sentencing in that case, she was allowed to keep 2 dogs, including Honey, whom she described as an emotional support dog.

In this case, Alyssa admitted that Honey was ill for 2 days before she allegedly left the house to stay with a relative. While in her mother Darlene’s care, Honey further deteriorated. For that 6 day period, Honey leaked fluid from her eyes and nose and ultimately passed away from her condition. An informant led Lake Humane to discover where Honey was buried and a necropsy indicated Honey was emaciated and had likely suffered trauma to her chest, causing a cardiac tamponade. Alyssa later stated that her mother had called her multiple times to tell her to call and report the situation to Lake Humane, but she failed to do so.

Darlene pleaded guilty to one count of neglect. She must complete 5 years of probation, during which time she may have no animals and is subject to random inspections. She will further undergo mental health counseling. If she fails to comply, she faces 60 days in jail.

Alyssa also pleaded guilty to one count of neglect. She will serve 8 days in jail, one day for each of the 8 days that Honey suffered. She will further complete 7 days of community work service. She is permanently banned from all animal ownership. Alyssa must complete 5 years of probation and pay $150 in restitution to Lake Humane, as well as court costs. She will face 75 additional days in jail if she fails to comply with these conditions. Further, because Alyssa violated her probation, she must either serve 10 additional days in jail or complete 10 days of community work service.


Moose, from Alyssa Morrow’s previous case, was successfully rehabilitated by Lake Humane Society.

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Conviction for Companion Animal Neglect in Ashland County

State v. April McCartney, a case we prosecuted for the Ashland County Sheriff’s Department, with assistance from the Ashland County Humane Society.

McCartney was convicted of one count of companion animal neglect regarding 4 cats, 8 dogs and a bearded dragon lizard. Most of the dogs were tied outside in a yard heaped with garbage without access to food, water or adequate shelter. Other animals were kept in the house, which was also filled with garbage, including animal waste. There was a strong odor of urine and fecal ammonia throughout the house. The majority of the animals were very thin. Many were suffering from conjunctivitis, eye conditions, parasites and other ailments which the veterinarian said showed lack of proper care for a very prolonged period of time.

McCartney voluntarily surrendered all of the animals.

McCartney is not permitted to own, possess or live in a place with animals of any kind for 3 years, and is subject to random inspections. If she violates those terms, she faces 30 days in jail. She was only fined $100 plus court costs because she has no assets.

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