BEFORE YOU FILE A COMPLAINT!
Before you file a complaint, we’d like you to understand what our goals are and what you can expect from us so that you have reasonable expectations about this process and the possible outcomes. Take a few moments to read the information below so that you are not surprised or disappointed with any outcome.
The State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners investigates complaints alleging violations of the Maryland Veterinary Practice Act. Our goal in these investigations is to maintain the integrity of the veterinary profession and to ensure that all licensees adhere to a minimum standard of care. Formal disciplinary action will only be taken when evidence gathered during a complaint investigation indicates that the care provided fell below the minimum standard. It is highly unlikely that the Board will revoke a license if a veterinarian makes an error in judgment. The Board is much more likely to order the licensee to undergo additional training and education or meet other conditions to improve their skill level.
Unless the Board issues a formal disciplinary action, details of how the complaint is resolved are not available to the public, including the complainant. You will be notified when the investigation is complete; however, the Board’s decision is final. The law does not give a complainant a right to request a hearing nor a right to appeal.
If you wish to pursue a civil claim for damages, you should consult with a private attorney. The Maryland Agricultural Conflict Resolution Service may also be able to assist with providing voluntary mediation services between you and the veterinary practice or practitioner.
Important: The State Board has no jurisdiction over financial disputes, fees, or pricing. The Board has no jurisdiction over non-licensees, such as rescue groups or humane organizations. For those complaints, consider contacting your county animal control agency, State's Attorney's Office, Better Business Bureau, or the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
Some frequent issues that come up are discussed below.
The Board cannot order a veterinarian to waive charges, refund money paid, or award damages.
By statute, the Board does not have authority to award damages. The Board also has no jurisdiction over financial disputes or the prices charges by veterinarians. If that is your primary concern, we recommend you contact the mediation program for assistance or consult an attorney.
The Board takes each complaint seriously.
The Board appreciates and considers every complaint filed, and we do, very much, want to hear when you’ve had a bad experience that you believe needs to be addressed. We believe this process improves the skill level of veterinarians across the state and increases the quality of care received by our animal friends. Citizen complaints assist us by informing the Board about common problematic issues in care and communication. The Board uses its experience evaluating complaints to promulgate new policies and regulations.
Once you file a complaint, the case is a matter between the Board and the licensed practitioner. The Board does not represent you.
Once you file a complaint with the Board, it may not be withdrawn. Moving forward, any disciplinary case is a matter between the Board and the licensed practitioner. While the information you provide assists the Board, the Board does not represent you, as a complainant. The Board may find violations based on the allegations in your complaint or may issue charges based on any issue discovered during its investigation.
As a complainant, you do not have a right to request a hearing and you will not be able to appeal the Board’s decision if you don’t like it. The Board can do its job best when you provide detailed, factual information.
Under the law, a person filing a complaint with the Board does not have a right to request a hearing or to appeal a Board decision. To make sure that the Board has all the information it needs to make an informed decision, please be thorough in your complaint and as detailed and responsive as possible when contacted by Board investigators. Keep in mind that the Board relies on facts and evidence.
Except for a final decision issued by the Board, most Board records related to complaints are non-public and may not be disclosed to a person making a complaint.
If the Board has jurisdiction over your complaint, the Board will conduct an investigation, which may include requesting records, interviewing the licensed practitioner and any witnesses, and procuring expert opinions. The Board may contact you to request rebuttal information.
Once an investigation is complete, the Board decides the next step during a non-public meeting. The Board has a number of options and is not limited to just the allegations in your complaint. In some cases, the Board will dismiss the complaint without taking public action. In other cases, the Board may issue charges.
While you might be anxious to get specific information about the status of your case, the Board’s records, charges, and other documents other than a final order are non-public and not subject to disclosure. Therefore, staff will not be able to tell you exactly where things stand.
Any final Board Order, Consent Agreement or Civil Penalty Final Order is a public document. Once a final public Board decision or order has been issued, the Board will contact you and provide you with a copy. Public orders are also posted on this website
The time frame for disposition of a complaint varies greatly, depending on the nature and complexity of the case.
All Board investigations are thorough, evidence-based and take time. We have one full-time investigator and, on average, about 65 complaints a year. Some cases are resolved in a matter of months and others, particularly those involving expert witnesses and speciality areas, will take longer than a year. A case in which a formal hearing is conducted could take close to two years.
The Board enforces minimum, not ideal, standards.
The Board’s goal is to maintain the integrity of the veterinary profession and ensure that veterinarians adhere to a minimum standard of care. In many cases, the Board members might feel that professional conduct or communication could have been better, but the facts do not justify charges for falling below the minimum standard of care.
There are a variety of possible outcomes from a Board complaint, ranging from dismissal to revocation of a license, depending on the circumstances.
If the Board finds a violation of the Veterinary Practice Act, it may file charges, which are not public. If charges are filed, a veterinary practitioner has a right to request a hearing. Upon request, the Board will conduct a hearing, at which you may be called as a witness. Hearings are public proceedings.
The Board may also resolve the charges without a hearing, either by entering a final Order or by entering into an agreement with the veterinary practitioner. Such an agreement may be reflected in a Consent Agreement and Order or Consent Agreement and Censure, which will be a public docume
When the Board finds a violation, it imposes a penalty considering all of the circumstances surrounding the violation. If there have been previous violations, the penalty may be more severe. In the most egregious circumstances, particularly those involving a significant threat to the health and safety of the public and/or animals, the penalty may be revocation of a license or a lengthy suspension. On the other hand, if a veterinarian has simply made an error in judgment in a particular case, it is highly unlikely that the Board will revoke a license.
For a first time offender, a civil penalty, continuing education, and probation may be appropriate. It is also possible that even in a dismissed case, a veterinarian will receive a Letter of Advice or a Letter of Admonishment from the Board; however, those letters are required by law to remain confidential. This is explained in the next paragraph.
If your complaint is dismissed, or of the final outcome does not address all of the concerns you raised, it does not mean that you wasted your time.
The administrative process used by the Board in investigating and resolving complaints is not the same as what would be followed in a civil case in which you are plaintiff. The Board, with advice from legal counsel, has discretion to resolve matters with or without formal hearings or orders. When considering whether to move forward with a case or to resolve it through a formal agreement and order, the Board weighs the strength of the evidence supporting a violation against the Department’s burden of proof, including any expert opinions offered; the motives or biases of the complainant or witnesses and the credibility of each witness; the harm, if any, caused by the alleged violation; the licensee’s prior disciplinary history; the likelihood of similar harm in the future; and a cost-benefit analysis of prosecuting a case through a hearing and final order and/or on appeal.
When a complaint is resolved, especially when a consent agreement and order is entered, the Board’s order might not necessarily incorporate all allegations you made against a veterinary practitioner. In some cases, the Board has charged a licensed practitioner with additional violations, but has agreed to drop certain violations or to reduce charges if veterinarian waives the right to a hearing and agrees to other terms and conditions proposed.
Even if your complaint is dismissed, the Board may have offered non-public advice to the licensed professionals designed to improve future care and professional interactions. Such non-public advice may be in the form of a Letter of Advice or a Letter of Admonishment. Dismissal does not necessarily mean that nothing happened.
Regardless of the outcome, be assured that each complaint is given thorough consideration and all evidence is considered carefully. The Board strives to use its resources in a way that maximizes the health, safety, and welfare of people and animals in Maryland.
About the Investigative Process
Shortly after receiving your complaint, the SBVME will notify you, the complainant, whether the subject of the complaint falls within its regulatory authority. If it does, a Board investigator usually takes the following steps:
- Request treatment records from the veterinarian who is the subject of the complaint and any other veterinarian who treated the animal;
- Send a copy of the complaint to the veterinarian that you have lodged a complaint against, and request that the veterinarian provide a written response to it;
- The Board investigator will likely interview you and any witnesses you have listed, either by phone or in person, as well as the veterinarians and staff involved;
- After obtaining all relevant information and documentation, the Board will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to believe that the veterinarian has violated the Practice Act and, if so, take appropriate action
If you have any questions, please contact the SBVME at (410) 841-5784.