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Veterinarians as ‘Good Samaritans’ in Alaska

There may come a time in a veterinarian’s career where they see an animal in danger of serious injury or death, and without being able to consult the animal’s owner, must provide emergency care to save the animal’s life. Can doing so subject the veterinarian to civil liability?

Veterinarians as “Good Samaritans”

Under Alaska Statutes §09.65.097 a licensed veterinarian will not be held civilly liable for actions taken while rendering emergency aid to a sick or injured animal that reasonably appears to need aid to avoid serious harm or death. However, a licensed veterinarian may be held civilly liable for care requested by an animal’s owner if the care results in harms resulting from gross negligence or reckless or intentional misconduct.

This law is similar to “Good Samaritan” laws imposed on humans who render emergency aid.

A veterinarian’s duty of care

It is essential that veterinarians in Alaska are protected from unnecessary litigation. Veterinarians generally want to provide aid to any ailing animal and there may come a time when emergency aid must be rendered. A veterinarian should not be penalized for trying to save an animal’s life.

However, veterinarians are held to a duty of care when aid is requested by the animal’s owner. Veterinarians who do not provide adequate care to the animals they treat per the request of the animal’s owner may be held liable for any damages caused by this inadequate care. This is especially true when a veterinarian acts with gross negligence or intentional misconduct.

Veterinarians are in a unique position in Alaska. While generally animals are considered property in other states, an animal’s well-being may be considered in certain circumstances, such as when aid is rendered. Veterinarians in Alaska facing civil liability for care rendered will want to make sure they are aware of their rights in such situations, including the right to bring their case to the attention of an attorney for assistance.