The first-ever revocation of a veterinarian's professional license in Utah has been upheld by the state's Court of Appeals.
A three-judge panel ruled Thursday that Dr. Leo N. Taylor was "grossly incompetent and negligent" in his treatment of at least three dogs and that state regulators had a right to revoke his license.Taylor, 70, was licensed to practice veterinary medicine in 1956 and opened a practice at the Brookside Animal Hospital in West Jordan in 1970. In 1995, the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing began investigating him in response to a number of complaints.
Regulators said Taylor failed to render adequate diagnoses and pre-operative care; "utterly failed" to perform and complete a surgical procedure in one case; failed to render adequate post-operative care on two occasions; and failed to maintain adequate medical records.
"Simply put, Taylor's misconduct permeates many critical phases of his veterinary practice," the division said in recommending that his license be re-voked.
Following three days of hearings in 1996, the Veterinary Licensing Board - whose members included three veterinarians and one lay person - found that Taylor's practice reflected "repeated occasions of gross incompetence, gross negligence and a pattern of negligence."
Taylor appealed, arguing the evidence didn't support the board's conclusion, that the division hadn't adequately defined "gross incompetence" and that the revocation was unprecedented.
However, in a 10-page opinion released Thursday, the appellate court said the division's decision was "fair and rational" considering Taylor's treatment of at least three dogs: Hillary, Shakesbear and Char.
According to court documents, Hillary was brought into Taylor's clinic following the stillbirths of two puppies.
"Taylor examined Hillary by palpating her, even though the physiology of the English bulldog makes it impossible to determine by palpatation if a female has delivered her entire litter," the court said.
Taylor concluded there were no puppies left in the litter and sent Hillary home. Later that night, Hillary began bleeding heavily, and her owner took her to another veterinarian, Dr. Mayling Chinn. With X-ray, Chinn found another puppy and immediately performed an emergency Caesarean sec-tion.
Noting that Hillary "nearly died" due to prolonged labor, the division said Taylor's failure to use X-ray in his diagnosis constituted gross negligence. Taylor argued there was insufficient evidence to support the finding.
"We disagree," Judge Judith M. Billings wrote for the court. "Dr. Chinn's testimony clearly supports the division's conclusion that Taylor's care of Hillary fell below a generally accepted professional standard."
The division also found fault with Taylor's diagnosis of Shakesbear, a dog who was left partially paralyzed by a spinal injury. The division said Taylor took a single X-ray of Shakesbear's spine, declared he would never walk again, and suggested he be put to sleep.
However, Shakesbear's owner took the dog to another veterinarian, who took two X-rays of the spine and found no evidence of misaligned disks. That veterinarian and the division said at least two X-rays are necessary in such cases before recommending euthanasia.
Char, a shar-pei, died during a routine spaying performed by Taylor. He said a necropsy revealed that Char had pneumonia in both lungs and an irregularly shaped heart. But two other veterinarians testified the necropsy revealed no evidence of pneumonia or heart irregularity.
On appeal, Taylor also argued the division's decision should be reversed because no other veterinarian has ever had his license revoked. He cited six other cases involving allegations of unprofessional conduct by veterinarians, none of whom lost their license.
However, the court said none of those cases was similar to Taylor's. Four involved the administering or prescribing of controlled substances to humans and one involved embezzlement. Only one other veterinarian was accused of mistreating animals, and that case involved inadequate maintenance of veterinary facilities, the court said.
"In contrast, Taylor's misconduct sprang from Taylor's own personal professional misconduct," Billings said.
Contacted at the Brookside Animal Hospital in West Jordan late Thursday, Taylor's wife and staff said Taylor would have no comment on the ruling.
Meanwhile, Taylor has also been ordered to stand trial on one count of possession of a drug and five counts of practicing veterinary medicine without a license.
Prosecutors allege he continued to receive narcotics and perform medical procedures, including surgery, at the Brookside Animal Hospital even after his license was revoked in June 1996.