Veterinarian suspended for fatal spine manipulation loses appeal

By November 5, 2014Veterinary Medicine

The fact that his mistakes were unintentional and not proven to have hurt an animal was not a basis to reverse a veterinarian’s two-month suspension, said an appeals court in Arkansas November 20. The court dismissed the appeal of the suspension which was imposed after a client accused the veterinarian of improper conduct in the death of her dog from spinal damage (Zepecki v. Arkansas Veterinary Medical Examining Board).

The Arkansas veterinary board initially suspended the license of Robert Zepecki for six months after a client, a nutritionist named Trisch Marina, filed a claim that Zepecki had sedated her diabetic dog, Nikki, against Marcino’s wishes during a teeth cleaning in March of 2006, and that the veterinarian performed chiropractic adjustments on the dog that injured the animal so severely that it was unable to walk.

To remedy the injury, and with the permission of Marcino, Zepecki had one of his veterinary assistants take Nikki to a chiropractor who performed further adjustments on the dog. Unfortunately, the chiropractor was not licensed to treat animals, which required Zepecki to be present during the treatment, and he was not.

After Nikki returned home, Marcino noticed that the dog was bleeding. A second veterinarian informed Marcino that Nikki was dying as a result of damage to her spinal column and the dog was euthanized in April.

A complaint to the board from Marcino followed Nikki’s death, and the suspension of Zepecki’s veterinarian license came soon after. Besides the chiropractic treatment alleged to have harmed the dog, the board also cited Zepecki for record keeping failures, as he had failed to keep adequate records of Nikki’s care. Zepecki appealed to a state circuit court and won an overturn of two of the six violations found by the board, although the court upheld the length of his suspension.

Zepecki appealed again—this time joined by the board, which did not like the reversal of the two violations—and the case went to a state Court of Appeals, which issued another favorable ruling for Zepecki, striking two more of the charges and returning the case to the board for a reconsideration of the sanctions.

On remand, the board reduced the suspension to only two months, but it also fined Zepecki $6,000. The doctor, still unsatisfied, appealed again, and the case came back to the Court of Appeals.

In his appeal, Zepecki argued that the sanctions imposed by the board were unduly harsh, claiming that his transgressions were unintentional and had not demonstrably affected the health of the dog.

The court did not agree. “There is no requirement that a veterinarian act willfully or that an animal be injured in order for there to be a violation of the rules governing the practice of veterinary medicine,” wrote Judge Kenneth Hixson. Regardless of whether Zepecki was aware of the requirements regarding treatment of animals by  non-veterinarian chiropractors, the rules still applied. The suspension and the fine were affirmed.

© 2013 Professional Licensing Report, published by ProForum, a non-profit research group, www.plrnet.org. Reprinted by permission.

If you are in need of legal help from a California lawyer involving your California Veterinary Medical Board license or your veterinary hospital, call Rose Law today at 1-800-456-3767.

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