Just like property damage claims, it is vital to hire the right experts and conduct a thorough and timely investigation. But unlike a typical property damage claim, with equine mortality claims it is often impractical and difficult to maintain the deceased horse for days or weeks to allow for all interested parties to retain experts and examine the horse. Many times, the board of health will not allow the horse to be retained. Nonetheless, immediate notice should be given in writing to any potentially responsible third parties. DNA samples should be collected and preserved to prove that the deceased horse is in fact the insured horse. If it is believed that a third party caused the death, it is also recommended that a full post mortem examination be conducted at either a university or a diagnostic laboratory in order to conclusively establish the cause of death. Photographic documentation and the appropriate records from an equine veterinarian are also helpful in combating any claims of spoliation.
In an equine injury situation, a veterinary expert will be necessary to causally connect the potential defendant’s conduct to the injury. Similar to a personal injury case, the right medical experts and records are needed to support such a claim. Notice to responsible third parties should be given immediately, and the injury should be properly documented with photographs, x-rays, blood tests, or the like. Taking things a step further, the subrogation professional may wish to consult with the veterinarian before a report is finalized to make sure the report is thorough, admissible at trial, and easily understood by an opposing adjuster, judge or jury.
Consideration should also be given to whether the treating veterinarian is qualified to serve as a litigation consultant and testify at trial. Many veterinarians, like medical doctors, may be hesitant to testify against others in their industry. When there is a potential malpractice claim against a veterinarian, this issue should be addressed up front with the treating veterinarian. If a new expert is needed, it is best to give him or her an opportunity to examine the horse in question as close as possible to the time of the injury. Often times the insurance company will hire a separate veterinarian to avoid any conflict of interest for the insured’s veterinarian, which gives the subrogation professional a choice of experts.