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When Pets Are Considered Family: New Case Explores Medical Malpractice Claims Involving Animals

A man from Cle Elum, Washington has sued the state’s university, alleging that the euthanization conducted by medical staff on his beloved dog was botched. The case has initiated conversation regarding the role of pets and their emotional value in medical malpractice cases.

Dog owner Robert Repin filed a lawsuit against Washington State University a few years ago. The beginning of the lengthy debacle dates back to 2012, when Repin took Kaisa, his 11-year-old Alaskan malamute, to the veterinary teaching hospital. After numerous examinations and tests were administered, veterinarians diagnosed the dog with cancer and gave her only a few more months to live. Repin, devastated by the news, agreed to the disheartening option of having his dog euthanized.

According to Repin’s lawsuit, a number of events occurred on the day of Kaisa’s euthanization that served as a cause for concern. He noted that he decided to witness the procedure to “hear her last heartbeat,” but he had noticed a few other things along the way. Repin recalls that before the procedure ensued, he heard the vet student, Jasmine Feist, mention that Kaisa’s catheter was damaged. This was the same catheter that was soon to be used for the injection. Feist requested permission from her supervisor, Margaret Cohn-Urbach, to replace the damaged catheter with a new one. Cohn-Urbach dubiously suggested another alternative. “No. I will show you how to still make this one work,” Repin claims she said. Both Feist and Cohn-Urbach deny that this conversation occurred.

In the midst of the procedure, Repin claimed that the mixture of drugs used to peacefully sedate the 90-pound dog were supposed to stop her heart. Instead, Kaisa’s injection resulted in her flailing and writhing on the operation table. “She was screaming and struggling to get out of that room and lash out at anything she could get at,” he said. “I went from her best friend to ‘what the f–k are you doing to me?’” Startled by Kaisa’s reaction, Repin held the dog down while the veterinarians scuffled to get more drugs. Within 15 seconds of Kaisa’s second injection she was dead.

Repin’s claims discussed the role of the domestic pet, arguing that Kaisa was not “just a dog,” or a piece of property he owned, but that the dog was a part of his family. Repin is unmarried and lived alone, he says him and Kaisa were virtually inseparable. The Washington State Court of appeals, however, dismissed the claims, essentially prohibiting him from receiving non-economic damages for Kaisa’s painful experience. As justification, the court rulings state that current Washington law does not entitle compensation for emotional distress rooted in veterinary negligence or malpractice, as they would in causes involving human medical malpractice.But in a rare effort, Chief Justice George Fearing, provided a separate opinion requesting that the the law be changed.

In the meantime, Repin claims he’s not going to give up his fight for justice.

“I’m going to take this all the way to the Supreme Court, and hopefully they will allow me,” he said. “Just because emotions are based around an animal, they don’t count? That’s not right. That’s not justice.”

If you have been injured while in the care of a medical professional you may be entitled to compensation. Call the law office of Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian at (800)529-6162 or contact them online.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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