Couple sue veterinarian for negligence remained hidden from them

A Polk County couple is suing an Iowa veterinarian for allegedly intercepting and withholding records showing their dog’s death was caused by negligence.

In a lawsuit filed in Polk County District Court, Jennifer and Chris Higgins of Polk County allege that Mobile Animal Health Care and Dr. Linda Stroh provided veterinary services for her dog Hailey, a 4-year-old Weimaraner.

The couple claim the dog came into heat before Hailey was neutered on March 23, 2021, but Mobile Animal Health Care assured them that this would not pose a problem for the surgery. On the day of the procedure, a Mobile Animal Health worker picked Hailey up at the Higgins home and returned the dog later that same day. Hours later, Hailey stopped breathing and then died on the way to the Blue Pearl Emergency Veterinary Hospital.

Hailey’s owners requested an autopsy, which they paid for. Over the next few days, the couple allegedly contacted Blue Pearl several times to check the status of the autopsy report and were eventually informed that Stroh had contacted Blue Pearl and advised them to send her the report so they could update the couple on its findings could .

The couple claim they never received Stroh’s autopsy report and were not contacted by the vet, which the report showed. They eventually received a copy of Blue Pearl’s report.

According to her lawsuit, the report suggested Hailey’s death was due to negligence regarding the sterilization process. The couple allege Mobile Animal Health Care ignored their subsequent request for Hailey’s medical records, even though the files were turned over in response to a certified letter citing state law requiring disclosure.

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The medical records allegedly showed that the procedure was performed by someone they didn’t know: Dr. Leah Braas. The records also said that estrus – suggesting Hailey was in heat, which may increase the risks associated with castration – was observed before the procedure was performed.

The lawsuit alleges negligence on the part of the defendants by failing to properly assess the risks posed by spaying a dog in heat, failing to adequately sew up certain incisions and failing to properly close the surgical incision.

The lawsuit also seeks unspecified damages for the defendants who caused emotional distress by providing incomplete information about the cause of Hailey’s death and by not promptly providing the requested autopsy and other medical records.

The defendants, including Stroh, Braas and Mobile Animal Health Care, have yet to file a response to the lawsuit. The Iowa Capital Dispatch was unable to reach Braas or anyone at Mobile Animal Health Care Friday.

Chris Higgins said Friday that he and his wife filed a complaint about Hailey’s treatment with the Iowa Board of Veterinary Medicine but were not informed of the outcome. Board records indicate that no public action was taken by the board against any of the defendants in this case.

In the past five years, the Veterinary Medicine Board has imposed public disciplinary action on only three veterinarians. The last time the board took such action was in March 2021.