Expert Testimony Necessary for Negligence Claim

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Sweetie Pie, a dog owned by Mornan Sue English, was scheduled for surgery on her left hind leg at Metropolitan Veterinary Specialists. Unfortunately, Dr. Aric Applewhite inadvertently operated on the dog’s right hind leg instead. He subsequently performed surgery on the correct leg at no cost to English. When Sweetie Pie later developed pain and lameness in her right hind leg, English consulted other veterinarians, who recommended additional surgery. English filed a lawsuit alleging professional malpractice against the clinic and Dr. Applewhite. Affirming the trial court’s dismissal of English’s complaint, the Kentucky Court of Appeals explained that allegations of professional negligence, without supporting expert testimony, were insufficient.

English argued that a letter of reprimand from the Kentucky Board of Veterinary Examiners directed at Dr. Applewhite regarding his treatment of Sweetie Pie, along with the dog’s veterinary records and bills for post-surgery treatments, demonstrated negligence. The Court of Appeals disagreed: “it was incumbent upon English to demonstrate that Dr. Applewhite negligently performed the surgery and that such negligence caused the present injury to Sweetie Pie’s right hind leg.” The record contained no such evidence, the Court explained. “English did submit veterinary records outlining additional treatment and surgery needed for Sweetie Pie’s right-hind knee, but English did not submit any proof that such additional treatment and surgery were caused by Dr. Applewhite’s negligence.”

The Court of Appeals took notice of the obvious—that Dr. Applewhite initially performed surgery on the wrong leg—but agreed with the lower court that English had no “compensable damages” because Dr. Applewhite “operated on both knees but only charged for one surgery.” English had no actionable claim, the Court added, because “the only evidence in the record indicates that Sweetie Pie suffered no cognizable injury because surgery was also needed on the right knee.”

The unpublished decision was English v. Metropolitan Veterinary Specialists, No. 2012-CA-000425-MR(Ky.Ct.App. July 5, 2013).