Dental Malpractice

Dental malpractice is a growing field for attorneys and is part of the larger medical malpractice field. It gives dental patients the opportunity to have dental mistakes addressed legally through civil lawsuits.

What is Dental Malpractice?

Dental malpractice refers to mistakes made by dentists or other dental personnel that results in injury or death to the patient. It occurs when the proper level of care is not exercised during any dental procedure. The term “malpractice” literally means “bad practice.” Dental malpractice is dental treatment that does not meet acceptable standards of skill, care or treatment.

Simply put, dental malpractice occurs when a serious mistake is made by a dentist, dental hygienist, oral surgeon or other dental personnel. For a dental malpractice lawsuit to be successful, it must be shown that the patient was harmed by the mistake resulting in injury, illness, trauma or death.

Types of Dental Malpractice

These mistakes can be grouped into 2 basic categories, mistakes that were committed and instances where things that should have been done but were not.

Mistakes of Commission: These include injuries to the patient during dental care, disfigurement caused by dental procedures, permanent numbness or loss of the ability to taste caused by mistakes, injuries caused by anesthesia, abuse while the patient is under anesthesia, illness resulting from unsanitary conditions or procedures, misdiagnosing and mistreating a serious condition, unnecessary extractions, prescribing the wrong type or amount of medication and more.

Mistakes of Omission: These include the failure to diagnose a dental or oral health condition, failure to treat a condition, delaying treatment, refusing anesthesia, not providing follow-up care or consultation and more. Failure to obtain your signed, informed consent for significant or invasive dental procedures is also dental malpractice.

Whenever a dentist or dental staff fails to comply with established dental practices, they might be committing dental malpractice of the type redressed in dental malpractice lawsuits.

Dental Malpractice Cases and Lawsuits

When a patient believes they are the victim of dental malpractice, the first step is to discuss the issue with the dentist. They should expect a full explanation of how their dental care was handled and why they were treated with the procedures, medications, treatments, etc.

If the patient continues to believe that dental malpractice occurred and the dentist is unwilling to admit fault, the next step might be to consult a dental malpractice attorney to help you understand your rights.

Consulting a Dental Malpractice Attorney

If you are considering a dental malpractice lawsuit, it is essential that you discuss your case with a competent attorney. Here are some tips that will help you choose an attorney who will do a good job representing you.

First, look for a malpractice lawyer with a specialty in dentistry. They don’t have to be a dentist, but must have outstanding knowledge of the dental field so that they can make your case that dental malpractice occurred.

At the very least, the attorney should have dental experts – often retired or active dentists – who can be consulted and called as witnesses for their expertise as the case is built.

Ask good questions of the attorney before giving them your case. Find out their level of experience in malpractice cases and specifically in cases like yours. Ask about how they will pursue your case in terms of finding out what happened and consulting experts. Ask them if they typically take cases to trial or settle out of court.

Fees and Settlements in Dental Malpractice Cases

These cases are very involved and costly for an attorney. They typically take cases without an upfront retainer or ongoing fees. Most dental malpractice attorneys work for a percentage of any settlement you receive. A typical agreement is that the attorney will be paid 1/3 of the settlement plus fees.

The attorney will spend a significant amount of time and money attempting to build the case and win it, with the risk of losing the case and receiving nothing. For this reason, dental malpractice attorneys will only take cases in which they believe there is a strong likelihood that they will be able to settle the lawsuit out of court for a substantial payment or will win the lawsuit in court.