I should start this post out by saying that I love puppies.  This will become important later, as some of you may be tempted to accuse me of hating puppies.  LOVE PUPPIES.

A person I know professionally, but not well, recently told me a very sad story.  His dog, a less-than-2-year old black lab, is sick.  Very sick.  It looks like this poor dog might have an aggressive type of diabetes, which will likely cause him to lose all his sight within a year.  He is also likely to suffer from incontinence and decreased physical ability.  His life expectancy is dramatically shortened, and his quality of life for his remaining years will be much lower.

This person and his wife are devastated.  They truly consider the dog to be a part of the family.

Hearing this I felt terrible for this family, and for this young dog who is suffering.  (See?  I LOVE PUPPIES.)  I said sympathetic things, and nodded my head, and listened attentively.

And then this person said something that surprised me.  “This is where I need your help,” he said.

“My help?” I said.

“Your help,” he said.

Turns out, the dog got sick after receiving a routine shot of some kind.  This shot, apparently, carries with it a very very small risk of the onset of diabetes as a side effect.  Much like my birth control pills carry with them a very very small risk of stroke, or my allergy medicine carries with it a very very small risk of a severe allergic reaction.

“We were never warned about the risk of this side effect,” he said to me.  “We weren’t given proper notice.  So I need your help finding a lawyer.  A litigation attorney.”

“Um,” I said.  “I do know a lot of litigation attorneys.  But I guess it sort of depends on what you’re looking for.  I assume you want to have a lawyer to do something like write a letter on your behalf when you are negotiating with the vet ?  Maybe the vet will waive the costs of the diagnosis, or won’t make you pay for the shot that caused it?”

“No,” he said.  “We want to be really aggressive.  We plan to sue the vet.”


[blink blink]

“Oh,” I said.  “Okay, I’ll think about it.”

The thing is?  I don’t WANT to refer this to any of my friends because I’m not all that psyched about helping him sue his vet.  I understand that it’s very sad to have a very sick dog, but shit happens.  I have no doubt the vet feels horrible.  Vets do not give routine shots hoping that dogs get desperately sick from them.  I suppose that technically, yes, the vet should have explained to this family all possible side effects, but from this person’s description of the situation I have a strong hunch that they would have gone through with the shot anyway, even knowing the risks, because that’s how small this risk was.  (Also, and I don’t think I’m the only one who does this, I often just gloss right over the risks section when talking about routine things like birth control or allergy meds, all “la la la I can’t hear you!” and I know that’s probably irresponsible, but EVERY MEDICINE has some minor very low occurrence risks and if I allowed myself to be dissuaded by the 1 in 100,000 chance I’d experience dry mouth and constipation I would likely be pregnant and sniffly right now, and I prefer my childless, free-breathing state.)

This person also just had a baby.  If this had happened to the baby, I’ll admit, I might feel differently, because to me, though losing a dog is very very sad, it is still a DOG.  (Hi puppies!  Love you!)  The thought of losing a child is heart-wrenchingly, horribly worse, and I’m willing to consider that it might change my feelings on suing the practitioner.  Although I actually think, even if (god forbid) something similar happened to a baby, suing the doctor would likely not be my first instinct, heartbreaking as the situation may be.

For me, it boils down to this: when you use a drug as intended, and you have the bad luck to experience a very-low-occurrence side effect, a lawsuit is not going to make you whole.  There is real loss, to be sure, but suing someone, causing them pain and jeopardizing their professional career and eking some dollars out of the system is not going to fix what’s really wrong.  Someone you love is hurt and sick and that sucks, and you’re angry and sad, but the legal system can’t make that right for you.  It just can’t.

So I don’t think I’m going to refer him to any litigation attorneys that I know.  Is that wrong?  I guess I could refer him, and then let the attorneys decide for themselves if they want to take the case…but I don’t really want to.  What do you think?