Whether you will end up with a complaint against your veterinary medical license by the end of your career is up to one thing—the quantity, not the quality, of clients in your practice—according to Roy L. Mason, attorney, founder, and CEO of the AVMA PLIT-sponsored Save My License program. "I tell veterinary professionals that if they see enough patients, they are going to receive a complaint from some consumer, sometime in their career."
AVMA PLIT searched for an agreement that would meet the needs of the members, one that was both a good product and economical. Save My License was developed by Mason in 1999 and launched in October of 2000 to provide license protection by experienced attorneys. The agreement provides $25,000 in prepaid legal fees for the protection of a veterinarian's license, should a consumer file a complaint to the state veterinary medical board. The agreement is offered for $49 a year for coverage in up to three states. Individuals are issued a certificate of that agreement. AVMA PLIT negotiated this program for AVMA members only, broadening the coverage of states per certificate and reducing the price.
The developers of Save My License did their homework, finding that complaints against licensed veterinarians rose 30 percent between 1999 and 2000. Mason attributes the reason to the fact that, no matter how frivolous the claim, it is easier than ever to file a licensing complaint these days. "Consumers don't need a lawyer, they don't need to file a lawsuit, they don't need to pay a filing fee, and they don't have to go to a trial or a hearing," Mason said. All a consumer needs to make a complaint is a telephone or access to e-mail.
Today, licensing boards have better funding and investigate all complaints brought to them. "That is the responsibility of these licensing boards, and they take that seriously," Mason said.
Veterinarians can benefit from Save My License because it is comprehensive, ie, it doesn't have exclusions the way some carriers do. Malpractice policies are designated to respond to civil complaints and typically exclude coverage for complaints to the licensing board. Save My License does not pay indemnity, ie, monetary damages, for malpractice, such as an injury to an animal. The agreement pays for the attorney. Save My License is not an insurance policy, and is not meant to be a replacement for liability insurance.
The danger in a licensing complaint is that the veterinarian won't take the complaint seriously enough, or will solicit inexperienced or uninterested counsel. Mason said, "Most lawyers are not interested in getting involved in litigation over a pet. The damages are seen by most lawyers as not being sufficient to warrant a contingency fee."
Veterinarians who end up with a decent result from the hearing or trial can still pay more for legal fees than they should. If inexperienced counsel is retained, the veterinarian could end up paying for that lawyer's "education"—the time spent to become familiar with laws and regulations concerning professional licensure.
Notification of a complaint from a state board, no matter how frivolous the claim, must be taken seriously. For those with coverage, the first thing to do, before discussing the complaint with anyone, is contact Save My License.
"We contact the lawyer within 24 hours of the veterinarian's e-mail and expect the lawyer to do the same for the veterinarian," Mason said. A brochure on what to do and what not to do, should you receive a complaint against your license, whether you're a subscriber or not, is available through the Save My License Web site. It explains why your malpractice carrier may not need to know about the complaint, or when it will be necessary to contact the carrier, and why you can continue to practice veterinary medicine while the complaint goes through the channels and legal system.
Mason believes the program is receiving an extraordinary response. For an application for the AVMA PLIT Save My License program, log onto savemylicense.com (click on the cow) or call (877) 728-3542. Veterinarians can also enroll by calling the PLIT at (800) 228-7548, or access Save My License via PLIT's Web site, avmaplit.com.