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Jury Awards Dog Owner $39,000 in Malpractice Suit

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Times Staff Writer

A man who sued his Fountain Valley veterinarian for malpractice has been awarded nearly $39,000 for the death of his dog.

Five years and $375,000 in attorney’s fees later, Marc Bluestone, 61, of Sherman Oaks, persuaded a Superior Court jury in Santa Ana that his dog’s veterinarian, Craig Bergstrom, was guilty of malpractice.

Bluestone said he brought Shane, a Labrador mix, to the nationally renowned All-Care Animal Referral Center in Fountain Valley to treat the dog’s persistent seizures in January 1999. Bluestone said he spent $24,000 on the illness and complications, but Shane still died.

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The jury on Friday cleared the animal clinic of wrongdoing -- as well as another veterinarian who treated the dog, Robert L. Rooks -- but agreed that Bergstrom was liable for the dog’s death. Jurors ordered the veterinarian to compensate Bluestone $9,000 for the veterinary bills and $30,000 for the dog’s “unique” value to his owner.

R.Q. Shupe, the veterinarian’s attorney, said he has asked for a new trial and a court order invalidating the jury’s verdict, arguing that Shane had no “unique” value.

“The defense finds this to be an interesting verdict,” Shupe said. The dog “was 3 years old, a mutt -- there was nothing unique about it.”

Although All-Care, which handles about 30,000 cases annually, has faced malpractice lawsuits in the past, previous cases have been handled in small claims court, according to Cliff Roberts, an attorney for All-Care.

Noting that placing a high value on the loss of a pet is becoming increasingly common, Terri Macellero, Bluestone’s attorney, said that the verdict reflects jurors’ willingness to regard pets as far more than property.

“The law is recognizing the value of an animal to their guardian,” Macellero said. “The jury said that somebody loves this dog.”

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