Just like a doctor can be sued for medical malpractice, a dentist can be sued for dental malpractice. In each case, the law of negligence governs. Four elements are required to be proved in any lawsuit based on the theory of negligence. Those elements are:
- Breach of duty
For a dentist to have a duty to a patient, a dentist and patient relationship must exist. Once that relationship is established, a duty arises for the dentist to treat the patient in a manner consistent with the standard of care that a dentist in the same location with the same or similar background would have used had he or she treated the patient. A dentist in Shawnee, IL isn’t likely to be held to the same standard of care as a dentist in Chicago.
Breach of duty
If a dentist fails to treat a patient in a manner consistent with the applicable standard of care, a breach of duty might be established. Like with medicine, a bad result doesn’t necessarily show a breach of duty. Breach of duty is one of the most contentious issue of a dental malpractice case. It’s likely that each side of a dental malpractice case will retain a highly experienced dental expert witness in the same dental specialty as the defendant to testify at trial. The experts will testify as to the applicable standard of care and whether there was a deviation from it.
Any deviation from the standard of care must have caused an injury. It’s entirely possible that a dentist can commit a gross deviation from the standard of care but not injure the patient. The issue of causation becomes a “but for” test. But for the deviation from the standard of care, would the injury have occurred? If the injury would have occurred notwithstanding the deviation, it’s unlikely that there’s a good case.
Aside from duty, breach of duty and causation, the person claiming medical malpractice must prove that they were damaged. Once they can demonstrate damages, they’ve proved their dental malpractice case. Damages can include but not be limited to:
- Broken or missing teeth
- Nerve damage
- Severe infection
- Temporomandibular joint disfunction
- Permanent disability or disfigurement
- Pain and suffering
It’s then a question of settlement negotiations or 12 people telling the plaintiff what his or her damages award is. Dental malpractice cases are difficult to prove. If the plaintiff fails to prove any single element of negligence, the case fails in its entirety. If you believe that you’ve been a victim of dental malpractice, you’ll want to discuss your claim with a knowledgeable and experienced malpractice attorney.