Dental negligence, otherwise known as dental malpractice, is a type of personal injury that occurs when a dental professional fails to competently perform their duties based on a professional standard of care, resulting in harm to the patient.
This includes injuries resulting from a "botched" procedure, as well as those resulting from a failure to diagnose or misdiagnose of a dental issue, such as oral cancer.
What are Some Examples of Dental Negligence?
Examples of dental negligence claims:
- Failure to detect or diagnose periodontal diseases;
- Failure to properly examine a patient for dental disorders;
- Exceeding the scope of consent for treatment;
- Improper use of dental instruments;
- Improper administration of anesthesia;
- Improper or unnecessary treatment or surgery;
- Nerve damage; and/or
- Oral infections.
What is the Standard of Care in Dental Negligence Cases?
In ordinary negligence cases, the plaintiff must show that the defendant failed to exercise the level of care of a reasonable and prudent person under similar circumstances. However, in cases involving a certain type of profession, such as the dental profession, the customs of that profession are instead used to set the standard of care.
Therefore, in dental negligence cases, the plaintiff must show that the defendant failed to exercise the skill and knowledge normally exercised by reasonable dental professionals of average skill. This will likely require expert testimony regarding what constitutes a reasonable level of care in the dental profession.
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What Do I Have to Prove in a Lawsuit against a Dentist?
When suing a dentist for medical malpractice, the injured party must prove the following in order to be successful in a lawsuit against the dentist:
- Duty: The dentist must owe a duty to you. This basically means that the person suing is a patient of the dentist.
- Standard of Care: The first step in a lawsuit against a dentist is proving that the injured patient must prove that the dentist acted below the applicable standard of care.
- This means that a dentist must act in a way other dentists would act under similar circumstance, who have basically the same education and knowledge, have a similar type of practice and practice in a similar geographical area.
- Causation: The second step in a lawsuit against a dentist is establishing the negligent act was the cause of injury.
- For example, the dentist may argue that the injury was something the patient would have sustained even if the dentist were not negligent or the patient should have reasonably expected the pain from the procedure.
- Damages: The third step is proving that you actually incurred some type of damage.
- This could mean having to pay for additional dental services to fix the mistake or missed time from work because of the injury. Damages usually come in the form of some type of monetary loss.
What Types of Recovery are Available in Dental Negligence Cases?
Recovery in any personal injury lawsuit is typically divided into economic and non-economic damages:
Economic damages reimburse the plaintiff for actual monetary losses suffered. These damages may include:
- Past medical bills
- Future medical bills
- Lost wages
- Lost future Wages and Earning capacity
Non-economic damages represent compensation for the injury itself and are more difficult to quantify. These damages may include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
What Defenses Can a Dental Professional Raise?
A professional accused of dental negligence may raise the following defenses:
- Comparative Negligence: Plaintiffs are also required to exercise proper care for their own safety and must not take actions that could exacerbate existing injuries.
- If the defendant can show that the plaintiff contributed to his or her own injuries the jury will assign each party a percentage of fault and, depending on the laws of the state, the plaintiff’s recovery will either be reduced or barred.
- Statute of Limitations: Dental malpractice claims must be brought within a certain period of time, which varies from state to state. Allowing the statute of limitations to run bars recovery for the personal injury.
Do I Need an Attorney?
If you have been injured by dental negligence, you should speak to an attorney immediately to learn more about the value of your case and what types of recovery are available to you. A local personal injury lawyer with experience in dental negligence will be able to evaluate your case and advise you accordingly.