“First-accident forgiveness” may work for drivers, at least in auto insurance marketing campaigns. But that’s not the rule for Virginia veterinarians.
A veterinarian who bungled a dog-spaying procedure cannot avoid a sanction by arguing the law requires multiple violations of the standard of care.
Lori R. Leonard performed an incomplete sterilization on a female dog by leaving a large portion of the right ovary, as later revealed by an ultrasound. A different vet performed a second operation to remove the remnant of the right ovary.
The Virginia Board of Veterinary Medicine said Leonard violated Va. Code § 54.1-3807(5) and 18 VAC 150-20-140, and reprimanded Leonard.
A Richmond Circuit Court reversed, reasoning that the regulation used plural words, “patients” and “animals,” which indicated that a single act of unprofessional conduct would not violate the regulation.
The Court of Appeals said the board got it right, and reinstated the sanction against Leonard on Nov. 12.
Judge Robert P. Frank upheld the board’s interpretation of its own regulation as requiring only one incident of unprofessional conduct.
Leonard’s argument “would allow a veterinarian to engage in one act of improper conduct with impunity. Only the second act, she contends, would trigger the Board’s involvement. Such an interpretation only protects subsequent animals and leaves the first animal subject to unaccountable conduct, no matter how egregious,” Frank wrote.
“Whether or not to protect all animals or only subsequent animal patients is within the specialized competence of the Board…. It is inconceivable that the Board would ignore the safety of the first animal subjected to unprofessional conduct,” the unanimous panel said in Virginia Board of Veterinary Medicine v. Leonard.