The patient died and the owner is angry!

As a veterinarian you realize that not every outcome will be a perfect one. Even when you do your best, you were treating the animal because it was in poor health or injured. Maybe a healthy animal had to be sedated for a simple procedure and did not wake up. It is difficult to explain to the owner and from their prospective you were at fault.

 I have handled hundreds of claims over the years and with all the laws and rules, with insurance underwriting and claims handling I can give you one piece of advice that can eliminate most potential claims: Stay Calm. Does that seem overly simplistic? You say it can’t be that easy? Well, there is no magic and the death of a patient is never easy for the owner/client and for the staff.

Generally, what I have found is the owner/client is distraught and emotional. They are angry at losing their friend and family member and in their mind you and your staff are at fault and you need to pay. At this point the owner/client has not formed how you are going to pay but they are releasing all of their anxiety and emotions on you and your staff. They may threaten to sue you and they may threaten to file a complaint with the state veterinary board. This is the point where you and your staff must remain calm. (It takes training and you should practice this with roll playing with your staff taking turns as the distraught and angry client.) Show empathy, show concern and speak with a caring heart but do not get angry. If the owner/client is shouting and is confrontational ask if they would like to discuss in your office or in a waiting room? They may not accept but it is important that you offer. Do not admit fault and do not lose your temper.

It is very difficult to take abuse from anyone without wanting to protect yourself and your staff however if you can remain calm and continue to show empathy and concern very few owner/clients will follow through with their threats. In fact, several of my clients have related that after the loss and outburst many owner/clients have returned to apologize for their behavior.

However, if you respond to a client who is angry with anger the odds are very good that they will at the very least file a complaint.

In either case inform your insurance agent immediately of the circumstances. Whether anything happens or not it is important to have the facts in place and your agent aware so they can note your file. They will ask you about the incident and will prepare a claim form in the event that it becomes necessary to use. When in doubt always ask and use the resource that is your insurance agent. This is your professional and this is the reason why you pay to have insurance so make that contact.

If you have any questions about the claims process or information that I have provided please contact me at chris@tedhamminsurance.com or call me at (805)238-1818 – I look forward to hearing from you!


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