For some, the mere thought of a trip to the dentist can instill all kinds of fears and worries. Those fears are often unfounded, as most trips to the dentist end with cleaner teeth and better oral health. But when things do go wrong, it can leave a patient wondering if it’s just normal side effects of a dental procedure or a case of dental malpractice.
Determining If You Have Been a Victim of Dental Malpractice
There are certain elements that patients must establish to prove a case of malpractice. The first is that the dentist owed a duty of care. If you were a patient of the dentist’s and he or she provided care or treatment, this would show a duty of care existed.
The second element is that the dentist breached the duty of care (or was medically negligent). In other words, the standard of care that the dentist provided was unreasonable compared to other dentists performing similar services.
The following are examples of negligence:
- severing nerves or other structures;
- failure to take complete medical history;
- leaving broken instruments inside a canal;
- failure to diagnose (oral cancer, periodontal disease);
- fracturing the jaw;
- spilling chemicals on the patient;
- extracting the wrong teeth;
- not giving enough anesthesia;
- excessive bleeding;
- life-threatening infection; and
The third element that must be present is that the dentist’s negligence directly caused physical and/or emotional harm to a patient. For instance, if after having a tooth removed the patient received special instructions for care but didn’t follow them and it resulted in complications, that wouldn’t be the dentist’s fault.
However, a permanent nerve injury that occurred when the dentist accidentally cut the nerve could be a case of malpractice. Or if the dentist misreads test results for oral cancer and it progresses, the dentist may be negligent in providing proper care for the patient.
The last element is that the patient suffered serious harm. Not every situation in which things don’t go as planned will warrant filing a claim. Nor does every mistake made by a dentist lead to a claim. There must have been significant loss, physically, financially and/or emotionally. If you’re unsure of whether you should take legal action, ask an attorney.
When to File a Claim for Dental Malpractice
You may choose to file a claim when all of the elements are in place. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean there is a case. An attorney would need to evaluate the circumstances, deciding if it’s valid and worth pursuing.
Of course, it’s important to take into consideration the statute of limitations. In New York, claimants must file a medical malpractice case within two-and-a-half years of the date the injury occurred. Even with this amount of time, it’s always best to act quickly. Don’t delay filing a claim when there is clear evidence of negligence.
There should be tangible proof that shows the dentist’s actions were careless or reckless. Be ready to submit all documentation, records and relevant information. Not only records from the dental clinic but those acquired after being injured. For instance, if after a procedure you developed an infection and had to be hospitalized, gather those records.
An attorney can help secure other evidence that will help substantiate the claim. A medical expert who works in dentistry is one example, though there may be a host of other types of evidence that can help substantiate a claim of malpractice.
Set up your appointment with Gacovino, Lake & Associates if you suspect your injuries or other damages were the result of dental malpractice. Call (800) 246-4878.