A Cautionary Tale about Curbside Service


It all started with a routine task: A practice team member crossed the parking lot to retrieve a patient – in this case a large-breed dog – from a client’s car. But that’s where the routine part of this tale ends. On the way back to the clinic entrance, the dog suddenly and unexpectedly attempted to return to the vehicle. Caught off guard by the abrupt change in direction – and overwhelmed by the dog’s size and strength – the employee fell and sustained a complete fracture to her femur that required surgery to repair.

Curbside service has become the new norm for many veterinary practices. It is an effective way to reduce the spread of coronavirus. But it also increases the potential for certain risks to staff members and patients. So, it is no surprise that the AVMA Trust and its carriers have seen an increase in certain types of claims, particularly workers’ compensation claims.

The most common injuries associated with curbside services are strains, scrapes, and bites, often to the shoulders, arms, and back. These injuries may occur when an employee reaches into the client’s vehicle to retrieve a patient, when a patient tries to run away during the transfer, or when a patient becomes fearful or aggressive and unexpectedly lunges at an employee. Most of these claims are minor; however, more severe injuries, like the one in our story, can cost the practice in a variety of ways.

Could this employee’s injury have been prevented? It is hard to say. She was performing a routine task – one she had done many times without incident. But animals are unpredictable, and it is difficult to plan for every contingency. On the other hand, thoughtful curbside service policies, vigilance to an animal’s body language, and a focus on best practices can go a long way to mitigating potential risks to both patients and team members.

Here are some important tips to reduce risk to patients and team members during curbside service:

  • Be mindful of an animal’s body language or demeanor. Exercise extra caution if an animal appears fearful or aggressive.
  • Ask clients to have dogs with a history of aggressive behavior muzzled before removing them from the vehicle.
  • Ask that all cats and other small pets be in carriers – and confirm that the carrier is properly secured – before the car door is opened.
  • Use proper technique when lifting a pet carrier. Start with a stable base. Firmly plant your feet. Bend from the knees and hips. Keep your back straight, arms tucked in, and head upright. Lift with the legs. Avoid overreaching or twisting while lifting.
  • Ensure the parking lot is well-lit and free from trip hazards.

View the full suite of AVMA Trust program offerings at avmaplit.com and avmalife.org. To contact us directly, email info@avmaplit.com or call 800-228-PLIT (7548).