Duane Flemming, D.V.M., J.D., D.A.C.V.O.

President of the American Veterinary Medical Law Association

Published in

Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice

Volume 31 (3), May 2001

In 1996 the Seventh Circuit Federal Court, in Lynbrook Farms vs SmithKline Beecham Corporation, upheld the contention that federal law, in the form of the Virus-Serum-Toxin Act, preempted all state law and all state court tort remedies that would have the effect of imposing any new or different safety, efficacy, potency or purity requirements on licensed vaccines. This decision, in effect, precluded lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers for problems arising from their vaccines and left the veterinarian administering the vaccines as the only party for injured plaintiffs to sue.

Other than the instructions on the vaccine label, there are no specific rules regarding the use of vaccines by veterinarians. It is the lack of rules that makes the veterinarian vulnerable to law suits. While it is the client who decides which diseases the animal should be vaccinated against it is the veterinarian who decides which is the proper vaccine to use and which is the proper manner in which to administer it. To minimize the possibility of a successful law suit, veterinarians should administer vaccines to their patients according to the professional standard of care and only after obtaining a valid informed consent from the owner. Additionally, as no vaccine is 100% effective and safe, the veterinarian should not guarantee or warranty that the vaccine will be safe or prevent disease.

A veterinarian who conforms to the standard of care, who obtains a valid and informed consent and who does not provide any warranty will go a long way in defending themselves against vaccine-related claims.