By: Kelley J. Johnson, Attorney
The Dentist. For most, those words just mean a routine dental appointment for check-ups and cleanings with the occasional follow up appointment to fill a cavity or have a root canal performed. For some, though, that routine trip to the dentist can turn into a complication that can change a life. If you find yourself faced with that situation – is there anything you can do? Is it dental malpractice?
What is dental malpractice?
Dental malpractice generally refers to an injury caused by a negligent dentist, dental assistant, dental hygienist, orthodontist or oral surgeon. A dental malpractice can include any of the following: failure to detect oral cancer or other oral diseases, permanent numbness or loss of taste, permanent structural injuries to the tongue, jaw, chin or lips, failure to detect periodontal disease or failure to refer to an endodontist, failure to take into account a patient’s relevant medical history, the unnecessary extraction of multiple teeth, or even wrongful death resulting from dental procedures or oral surgery.
What happens in a dental malpractice lawsuit?
In Indiana, a dental malpractice case follows the same laws and requirements as a medical malpractice case. This means, a dental malpractice case must go through a medical review panel before the case can be filed in state court. A medical review panel process occurs in the Indiana Department of Insurance and involves a 3-member panel made up of health care providers with same or similar backgrounds of the dental provider involved in your case. The 3 member panel reviews your case and determines whether the dental provider fell below the standard of care or not. Although not a court case, this process still involves discovery, depositions, and lengthy written submissions of the medical facts of your case before a medical review panel even gives their opinion. Because of this required administrative process, a dental malpractice case can take anywhere from 5 to 7 years to completely resolve by trial.
What should a victim of dental malpractice do?
What does this mean to someone who believes he or she may be a victim of dental malpractice? First and foremost, it means that dental malpractice cases are very expensive to bring and resolve to the end. The expenses to run a case for 5 to 7 years can be very costly. For example, a typical dental malpractice case will have several depositions and will undoubtedly have the cost of an expert. This means that dental injuries that are not permanent may not be enough to have an attorney bring a case on your behalf. Your dental injury must be more than short-term pain or numbness. The injury must also be substantial. Unfortunately, an injury affecting only one or two teeth may not be sizable enough to recover enough damages to cover the case expenses and allow recovery to you.
What do you do if you suspect you have a dental malpractice case? Obtain all of your dental records. This includes your entire dental chart – the progress notes, copies of prescriptions, copies of referral letters, billing records, x-rays, bitewings and models. Your entire chart belongs to you and a healthcare provider (which includes a dentist), by statute, is required to give you a copies for a reasonable cost.
Consult a dental malpractice attorney. If you or a loved one has suffered significant injuries from a dentist, you should consult a qualified attorney who specializes in dental malpractice. If you do not have a permanent injury or if you do not have a significant injury, don’t give up – there are still other things you can personally do. I will discuss other remedies for dental injuries and dental malpractice in my next article. Stay tuned.