Vet negligence claim settled out of court

  • The racehorse owners whose complaint to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) led to an equestrian vet being struck off have settled a claim of alleged negligence against his practice out of court.

    But Dr Alan Walker, who has been practising for 26 years, has refuted the claims.

    “Things can’t get worse,” he said. “I’ve had my name dragged through the mud once again and I don’t feel I deserve any of this. I feel more bitter about this court case than the disciplinary panel’s decision.”

    Dr Walker was struck off by the RCVS disciplinary panel in February after backdating passport vaccination entries for three racehorses owned by Mr and Mrs Odell (news, 8 February).

    In this new claim, John Odell and his wife, Shaena, received £34,000 from Hook Norton Veterinary Practice in a settlement during a trial at Oxford County Court on 27 April. Dr Walker’s solicitor, Gill Nevin, declined to comment on why the decision to settle was made.

    Mr Odell claimed Dr Walker, who had been his vet for 20 years, failed to give appropriate advice during a pre-sale vetting in June 2003. The horse in question, Moorlands Again, was bought shortly afterwards by the Odells for £22,500 with the hope of qualifying for the Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham in March 2004.

    Mr Odell told H&H Dr Walker did not make clear at the vetting what implications an injury — a fractured tuber coxae (wing of the pelvis) — may have had on Moorlands Again’s racing career.

    The Odells started legal action against Dr Walker in January 2004 after Moorlands Again, whom they trained themselves, failed to complete a point-to-point.

    “Dr Walker knew we wanted a horse for Cheltenham,” said Mr Odell. “But Moorlands Again had problems that prevented him from racing until October 2004 and I don’t think he would ever have returned to the track had we not moved him to another vet practice.”

    But Dr Walker believes the injury was not to blame for the horse’s problems.

    “I’ve seen 30 horses with similar fractures and 25 of them were able to race again,” he said. “This particular injury wasn’t that bad and I thought the horse was a good buy — I said as much to Mr Odell.”

    He said he considered it unrealistic to buy a horse for one race.

    “Horses aren’t machines,” he said. “I told Mr Odell the fracture would be improved after a summer of walking and I fully expected him to race.

    “On 12 December 2003, I spoke to Mrs Odell and she told me the horse was flying.”

    Since the Odells started legal action against Dr Walker, Moorlands Again has raced 17 times, winning twice and being placed on five times. He has won £23,137.

    Since receiving the disciplinary panel’s verdict over the backdated passport vaccination entries, Dr Walker decided to appeal to the government’s Privy Council and an appeal fund set up by fellow vets has raised more than £17,000 to finance his costs (news, 26 April). An appeal date is yet to be set.

    This news report was first published in Horse & Hound (10 May, ’07)

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