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Veterinary Malpractice Case Could Redefine Veterinary Care

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Tuesday, September 16, 2008 11:53 AM EST
Category: Protecting Your Family
Tags: Animal Rights, Animal Law, PETA, Medical Malpractice, Veterinary Malpractice


IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockPhoto / puppies / author: LivingImages

Michael and Kathryn Sutton are charging their former veterinary surgeon with veterinary malpractice for her handling of their 13-year-old miniature Schnauzer, Marshall.

The suit, filed in Fulton Superior Court last month, has the potential to redefine veterinary care and the relationship between animals and humans.

The unusual lawsuit claims the Sutton’s would still have their dog, Marshall, with them today if not for the inadequate care provided by Julie Duval, a Georgia vet who contends, “The suit is meritless.”

“I handled that dog no differently than if he were my own,” Duval said. “I’m okay with that.”

The suit claims Marshall died a painful, agonizing death with his abdomen inflamed from peritonitis.

The couple is left feeling angry and empty after the needless loss of a constant companion and cherished family member.

The lawsuit seeks excess of $75,000 in damages for their loss.

Most states, including Georgia, consider pets’ personal property.

Many pet advocates maintain that companion animals should be treated as humans because they are able to feel suffering and are often considered valued family members.

International and national groups like that of The Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and International Society for Animal Rights are supportive of the companion animal-rights movement.

In 2004 a jury in Orange County, California, awarded a dog owner $39,000 in a veterinary malpractice suit acknowledging the “special value” of a Labrador retriever.

In most cases dogs and cats, as property, are limited in value by their replacement value. However, The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) acknowledges that some animals exceed market value to their owners.

In determining the monetary value of the animal, the AVMA says the following factors should be considered: purchase price of the animal, age and health, breeding status, pedigree, special training and any specialized utility the animal has to the owner.

The status of animals, under law, has profound impacts in courts, homes and in veterinary clinics. #


Anonymous User
Posted by kathryn sutton
Sunday, September 21, 2008 5:21 PM EST

This is my case. Dr. Julie Duval, a Diplomate with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons was hired to resect a benign cystic liver tumor. She claimed that after 2 hours she had been unable to resect the Left liver lobe because it was a hard mass and probably cancer. Rather than resect the tumor, she OPENED 2 of the largest cyst and left them to DRAIN BILE AND BLOOD into the belly. Any Vet can tell you that this drainage is LETHAL. When all 3 biopsies returned as BENIGN LIVER TUMOR, she wrote my local vet that we should allow her to re-operate and remove the tumor. 5 days previous the tumor was unresectable, now she wanted to re-operate. Marshall declined rapidly and I was told by 2 local vets that he wouldn't survive another surgery. I took my boy to another Vet 20 days later to have him put down and he said "something isn't right. A benign liver tumor is soft and easily resectable" so he did what turn out to be a "living Autopsy" and he resected the benign liver tumor in 10 minutes. But my dog died from peritonitis (massive inflammation) from bile and blood that drained from the 2 cysts that she opened!
So either she is a total incompetent that has no business operating on animals or she knew perfectly well that this was a benign tumor and "follow the money" she opened the cysts knowing that he'd get worse and gambling that he could survive 2 surgeries.
She manipulated my dog’s health so she could get paid twice. She and Georgia Veterinary Specialty Clinic charged my charge card for surgery she did not do! She lied to us about her findings of Cancer. Had I realized this immediately I would have taken him to Ga. Vet. School in Athens.
If anyone reads this and has had similar dealings with Dr. Julie Duval OR the Georgia Veterinary Specialist clinic, also known as the Albert Schweitzer veterinary clinic (wouldn't he roll over in his grave) please contact me at casutton@ellijay.com or 706-636-3448. Since the article by David Bennett on front page of the Atlanta Journal Constitution on 15 Sept 08, we have received dozens of calls from pet owners that feel that they lost their pets due to negligence.

This is bigger than me and my loss. This is even bigger than Marshall and his suffering. In many states, there are laws on the books for cruelty to animals (felony). Yet there are no laws to protect an animal while under the care of a Vet. In my opinion, deliberately doing erroneous surgery and being fallacious about interaoperative findings is a form of animal cruelty.

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Sunday, September 21, 2008 5:39 PM EST

Kathryn - I am very sorry for the loss of your beloved Marshall. My heart goes out to you and your husband.

Thank you for taking the time to share your side of the case. I most definitely agree with your view point as well - there should be laws to protect animals while under the care of a vet.

I wish you the very best of luck and hope you will keep us informed as the case continues.

Posted by Stefani
Monday, September 22, 2008 11:46 PM EST

I am so very sorry for what happened to your dog. The Veterinary Boards in this country are complicit in massive, nationwide pattern of veterinary malpractice that the public is generally naiive about.

My cat was given a massive insulin overdose by an unqualified, unsupervised person (the vet's son). The Board fined his father only $250. Big F deal.

See my website at


Anonymous User
Posted by Elijah
Wednesday, September 24, 2008 2:05 PM EST

Ms Sutton, I am sorry for your loss. Losing a pet can be very trying on an owner. However, your handling of this situation does not sit quite right with me and I am going to be very blunt. Marshall was 13 years old - with dogs aging at approx 7 years to that of a human he was ~91 years old. At that age, lots of internal health issues can develop not only in humans but animals. I believe that it is going alot more than what you have posted above to prove the surgeon's negligence. And perhaps the biggest issue, is your reference above to "follow the money" meanwhile you are suing for $75,000. From where did you determine this sum? Will this money really solve anything at the heart of the matter? Your timing on Marshall's follow-up is really frustrating - You bring the animal to "2 local vets" and then wait 20 days to see a third vet where he resected the tumor in 10 min via a "living Autopsy"? That seems a dodgy, cruel and inhumane. Would you please clarify for me if the dog was put down by vet #3 or did he die after the 10 min resection? These are my personal thoughts, but maybe you will see the overall situation and the ramifications that may arise from this lawsuit. I would not be suprised if you were served with a countersuit by the surgeon or clinic.

Anonymous User
Posted by Joel
Thursday, September 25, 2008 12:08 PM EST

I am a general private practitioner who is intimately familiar with the inner workings of Georgia Veterinary Specialists (GVS). I have known them, worked with them, worked for them, and refer cases to them for more than ten years. I assure you that you are completely mistaken in your belief that any doctor at GVS would take part in any scheme which would deliberately endanger a pet for the sake of increased income. Such thought is beyond ludicrous. You should know that surgical and oncologic experts in human and animal medicine customarily recommend biopsy prior to definitive therapy for good reason. The purpose of such recommendation is twofold. (1) No one, but no one, can look at a tumor and successfully identify the tumor just by looking at it 100% of the time. (2)The tumor type must be identified before the doctor does something they can't undo because different types of tumor may require different treatments. It would be inappropriate to perform a definitive treatment in the absence of a diagnosis; such would constitute malpractice. The drawback, of course, is that such approach may legitimately require two surgeries: the biopsy surgery and the treatment surgery (if indicated following tumor identification). But better it should be done this way than to do it wrong with just one surgery. It sounds to me as if Dr. Duval did just what she should have done, especially given the extensive nature of the disease you describe. Further, I would recommend that you take the opinions of the local vets with a grain of salt--a specialist's opinion trumps a general practitioner's opinion almost every time. Just because a GP may be incompetent to survive a patient through complicated anesthesia and surgery, doesn't mean that a specialist can't do it. I am very aware of many patients that don't receive recommended adequate care because the pet owners were made afraid to proceed with treatment because another veterinarian scared them away from it. Finally, if you think that anyone, including a specialist, can adequately, safely, and competently resect ANY hepatic tumor in just ten minutes, then think again. If this is what you were told by the local GP, then it is his credentials I would be examining more closely. A suggestion: if you have not already sought the opinion of an unbiased expert, then I would do so before you put any more money into your lawyer's pocket. May I suggest that you contact the University of Georgia Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, Animal Medical Center in New York City, or Angell Memorial Hospital in Boston for other qualified opinions? If they cannot help you, I am certain that they may be able to find someone who can help you determine the merits of your case. I say this because, at least on the surface of what we read in the media, it doesn't seem like you have much of a case as far as this veterinarian can see.

Posted by Tina
Friday, October 03, 2008 1:21 AM EST

There are hundreds of veterinary malpractice cases in the country, but vets and specially board-certified vets believe they are GODS and never do anything wrong!

I lost my 13-year old companion pet to misdiagnosis, and mistreatment (unnecessary and killing surgery). My pet died 3 days after release from the referral surgical hospital. The board-certified PHD internist (an hematologist, not a radiologist) also of the same referral hospital performed an ultrasound and diagnosed an intestinal obstruction. He recommended exploratory surgery ASAP, I followed his expert medical advice, but the surgeon found NO OBSTRUCTION! Before I rushed to have my pet operated on, I asked for more tests, and the internist suggested barium series test. The referring vets performed this test, and they also diagnosed an obstruction. They urged me to have my pet operated on--life-threatening case as they stated!

I did seek second opinions. Actually a board-certified radiologist and academic professor read and interpreted the radiographic and US tests. THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG with my pet's intestines. As the histopathology report indicated and as the radiologist diagnosed, my pet's liver had abnormalities (steroid-induced hepatopathy). The surgeon received the histopathology report on the date my pet died! If the surgeon had this report, a day or two before my pet died, my companion WOULD BE ALIVE TODAY!

Second opinion from three vets: My pet died of Atypical Addison's disease and post-op complications. Addison's disease and intestinal obstruction have the SAME symptoms, and the vets never suspected or looked for this disease. A simple ACTH test would have diagnosed my poor companion who also died an agonizing death, after a seizure/shock, collapse and coma.

Do you vets believe that we the pet guardians spend thousands of dollars for our pets' well-being if we didn't consider them part of the family? Do our pets deserve to have their day in the court? ABSOLUTELY! They experience all the feelings we humans do: love, pain, suffering--THEY ARE NOT MERE PROPERTY--THEY ARE SENTIENT PROPERTY! And who knows I might consider to file a lawsuit, too. . .


Anonymous User
Posted by joel
Monday, October 06, 2008 5:18 PM EST

Tina, I am sorry to hear about your loss. Howver, it sounds like there was some confusion as the diagnosis. There are many reasons that could have occurred. Certinaly, incompetence is one of those reasons, but perhaps there are other reasons beyond incompetence that could have been at play here. Remember, that one bad case does not make an otherwise excellent doctor a quack. And one should be very careful whom they call incompetent. There is a tendency for clients and patients to assume that the second opinion is always the correct opinion especially if the second opinion is one you would rather believe for whatever reason. Sometimes the second opinion is the wrong one. So if you get two conflicting opinions how do you know who is right and who is not. Tough choice sometimes. A third opinion can sometimes help but even this is no guarantee. In this particular instance your histopathologic diagnosis of steroid-induced hepatopathy does not agree with the second opinion conclusion of atypical addisons. Steroid hepatopathy is a consequence of too much cortisol while atypical addisons is cortisol deficiency. So either the pathologist is wrong in his read of the liver biopsy slides, the internist was wrong in his read of the ultrasound, the referring veterinarians were wrong in their read of the barium series, or the second opinions are wrong with their suggestion of atypical addisons. Did you have a necropsy (autopsy) done to achieve a final DEFINITIVE diagnosis? Or is this atypical addisons diagnosis just another guess? Few veterinarians think they are gods. To say that "There are hundreds of veterinary malpractice cases in the country, but vets and specially board-certified vets believe they are GODS and never do anything wrong!" is absurd. General practitioners and specialists alike have been humbled too many times and have too many patients in their bone piles to think such even in their wildest fantasies. Trust in the knowledge that even the specialists recognize that they are not infallible, that they are human, that they are going to make mistakes. Just like everyone else. Not all cases are easy diagnoses. Why do you think there are humans languishing in hospitals even now with no diagnosis even after months or even years. We are truly not gods. We are just doing the best we can. Doctors should only be considered incompetent when they have track records of bad decisions, not just one bad case.

Anonymous User
Posted by Dan
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 8:20 AM EST

Does anybody know how to get a hold of Kathryn Sutton (email address?) as I have a very sad story that is almost exactly what happened to her just last week that I want to share with her. Any and all help would be greatly appreciated if any of you know how to reach her. Thank you!

Posted by tina
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 1:39 AM EST


Thanks for your kind words; however, it appears that you are a vet, so I am offering the following regarding second opinion:

1. Steroid-induced hepatopathy was due to corticosteroid excess that was caused by excessive adrenal gland production (Cushing's disease)or exogenous administration. My pet never had any steroids unless the vets administered without my knowledge.

2. Excessive corticosteroids, after reaching its chronic stage, turn Cushing's to Addison's. That is the reason vets warn their clients to be very careful in administering steroids to Cushinoids--excessive steroids administration WILL TURN Cushing's to Addison's.

3. The internist who performed the US and rendered the diagnosis is an hematologist, not a radiologist. The second opinion on the radiographic and US tests was rendered by a major university (one of the best in the country) academic professional who is board-certified radiologist. Whose opinion WOULD YOU TRUST? I elected to trust the board-certified RADIOLOGIST NOT THE HEMATOLOGIST.

4. I sent medical records to three vets in three different states for their evaluation (no vet in my state was willing to render second opinion)and second opinion. They all concluded based on my pet's medical history, especially the last lab report a few minutes before he passed away, that the cause of death was Atypical Addison's and surgery complications (result of Addison's).

5. The professor diagnosed the radiographic and US tests and rendered his second opinion: NO OBSTRUCTION, therefore, no surgery should be recommended.

6. The three vets rendered their second opinion for cause of death: Atypical Addison's disease and surgical complications.

It is very unfortunate that I had to educate myself after I lost my companion. I have spent countless hours researching, and I have learned WHAT QUESTIONS TO ASK, HOW TO SELECT VETS, WHAT SPECIALISTS TO SEEK AND THEIR CREDENTIALS, BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY: I GOOGLE NOW! You see for the last 13 years, my pet was military vets' patient. Military vets are not profit-oriented, and there are no products to push for more income generation. The military vets are there just to provide SERVICE and CARE--they live on a moderate salary, and they still have the pets' interests at heart, not profit!

Anonymous User
Posted by tina
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 5:37 PM EST


One additional comment: The surgeon found NO OBSTRUCTION so there was a misdiagnosis!

Comments for this article are closed.

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