Chapter 8: Additional Considerations Related to Legal Claims

Web Chapter 8

Small Animal Poisoning

Additional Considerations Related to Legal Claims

Notes: Criminal cases are commonly cited as State v. Doe, since the state is prosecutor and the individual accused of doing the poisoning is the defendant in the initial trial. In this case, Mr. Celinski appealed the initial court ruling to the Texas Court of Appeals; thus the case is Celinski v. State.

The interest of the legal and medical professions is generally quite similar in these cases. That interest is to determine whether exposure to the suspect chemical caused the disease present in the animal. Both professions gather and analyze facts to determine whether such a conclusion can be reached.

“I think the neighbor poisoned my pet.” Most practitioners hear this history many times in their career. Often the pertinent clinical signs are unrelated to any toxin; however, in other cases toxicosis is a possibility. This chapter considers those situations when pet toxicosis may eventually involve the legal system.

Pet poisoning cases may interface the legal system through insurance claims, product liability claims, civil claims, or criminal prosecution. As an example, a criminal case is presented to highlight some of the issues that may arise when an animal toxicosis involves the legal system.

Case Example

Celinski v. State*

The criminal application of the Texas animal cruelty statute was reviewed in the case of Celinski v. State. Mr. Celinski was found guilty of cruelty to animals in part for poisoning two cats with acetaminophen. He appealed the conviction. The conviction was upheld by the Texas Court of Appeals based on the evidence. The evidence cited by the Texas Court of Appeals in upholding Mr. Celinski’s conviction can be summarized as follows:

Conclusions from This Case

This case illustrates a number of points regarding the importance of medical records in legal cases. The first four points listed by the Texas Court of Appeals may be used to determine whether the cats had a previous illness, whether they were exposed to a potentially toxic dose of acetaminophen, and whether the previously known adverse effects of acetaminophen were observed in the cats. The last two points reviewed by the court of appeals were more directly aimed at determining whether the exposure was accidental or intentional.

The first point noted by the Texas Court of Appeals was that the cats were previously healthy and then became acutely ill. A preexisting medical condition that could explain the clinical signs or other adverse effects observed in the animal is likely to be considered in a legal setting. This analysis would consider whether the clinical signs of the animal could be caused by the preexisting condition, exposure to the purported toxin, or both.

The second point noted by the Texas Court of Appeals was the cats were exposed to a dose of acetaminophen known to be toxic. Acetaminophen was detected in the cats, confirming exposure. Analytic chemistry confirmation of the presence of the chemical in the animal is very useful in a legal setting to confirm that the chemical was actually absorbed into the animal. Analysis of blood and urine is most commonly used to support an argument of systemic exposure to the chemical in live animals. All of this information presumably assisted the veterinarian in estimating that the cats had received five to six acetaminophen-containing tablets apiece, the third point.

The fourth point noted by the Texas Court of Appeals was the cats died of acetaminophen poisoning. The “physical symptoms” observed by the veterinarian included “dark chocolate color of a blood sample.” This blood color led the veterinarian to suspect acetaminophen toxicosis. Acetaminophen was confirmed as the cause of death by the laboratory at Texas A&M University. A thorough necropsy with appropriate supportive testing also can be very useful to both rule in the suspect toxin and rule out other possible causes of the animal’s clinical condition.

The veterinarian’s medical record is likely to be an important source of facts in a legal case. Consequently, the more facts present in the medical record, the stronger the support for an argument that the suspect chemical, and not another etiology, caused the disease.

The last two points (5 and 6) were used to find that death from acetaminophen was intentional and not accidental. The distinction between accidental and intentional poisoning is important in animal cruelty statutes as discussed in the following paragraphs.

This criminal case raises important questions that may be considered in other toxicosis cases, specifically:

Medical Records

The veterinarian’s medical records will likely be thoroughly reviewed if a medical case becomes a legal case.

What Should Be Included in Medical Records?

The pet’s medical record may be broader than sometimes appreciated. For example, “registration forms, consent forms, radiographs, estimate sheets, billing records, telephone consultations, controlled drug logs, laboratory results, surgery reports, discharge records, imaging recordings, patient history, treatment records, and consultation reports” all may be considered part of a pet’s medical record (Scott, 2006). Specific suggestions of facts to include in the medical record when animal cruelty is suspected are:

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Jul 18, 2016 | Posted by in PHARMACOLOGY, TOXICOLOGY & THERAPEUTICS | Comments Off on Chapter 8: Additional Considerations Related to Legal Claims

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