The Importance of Going to the DentistNaturally, everyone goes to the dentist for various reasons. The most common reason is to get a cleaning. In a routine cleaning, a dental staff member will take x-rays of your teeth to see their health. The dentist will then scrape plaque off your teeth and gums. The dentist will clean them thoroughly and send you on your way. This is generally a quick process; most patients are in the chair and out within half an hour – it is that simple. Although the majority of people go to the dentist for this simple procedure, others visit dentist for other procedures. Some of the other procedures include:
- Root canal
- Deep cleaning
- Tooth removal
- Gum surgery
- Bridges and implants
Dental malpractice injuries can be serious. Many times the injuries occur while the patient is under anesthetics and cannot respond to pain. As a result the dentist can cause extensive oral nerve damage by drilling through nerves and other oral tissue. In other cases the equipment can malfunction during the procedure causing serious injury. However, because you are unable to respond to the pain or make the dentist aware of the issue, the injuries suffered will almost always be intensified.
What is dental malpractice?Dental malpractice is not too different from medical malpractice. Dentists have a duty of care to their patients, and they must take every measure necessary to protect them. If they injure the patients, they must be held responsible for the ensuing damages. Whenever patients are harmed as a direct result of a breached duty of care, injured patients (and their families in some circumstances) have the right to pursue a claim against the liable party. Dental malpractice is a blanket term that applies to a number of things. There are numerous ways that you can be injured while at the dentist. It is rare to be hurt during a routine exam and cleaning (although not impossible); many damages are sustained during specific procedures, such as being fitted for braces. Some examples of dental malpractice include the following:
- Failure to properly examine
- Failure to detect, acknowledge, or diagnose oral diseases, or misdiagnosis of periodontal troubles
- Improper treatment or inappropriate treatment
- Wrongful use of dental instruments, resulting in lacerations
- Ignoring consent of treatment and proceeding with further procedures
- Improper usage of anesthesia, resulting in the patient having sensation (feeling the pain)
- Laceration of nerves, resulting in damage to the tongue, jaw, lips, teeth, throat, face, and more
- Failure to sterilize dental equipment
- Electing to treat a patient with unnecessary procedures, such as pulling teeth or going through surgery
- Leaving foreign objects in the mouth
- Performing the wrong procedure on the patient
- Performing the procedure on the wrong patient
- You were a part of a dentist/patient relationship and were owed a duty of care by the dentist. This means that you were being checked, operated on, evaluated, cleaned, or anything similar. Because the dentist owes you a duty of care, the dentist must treat you with skill and diligence to promote your dental health.
- The dentist breached his care of duty in some way. This breach must be attested to by other dental professionals. They will state whether or not they would have acted the same under similar circumstances. If they disagree with the dentist’s actions, this second point is shown to be true. Some examples of breaches of duty include performing the incorrect procedure, performing the procedure on the incorrect teeth, using the wrong equipment, and botching the procedure, for example.
- The breach of duty resulted in an incident or injury, such as broken teeth or an infection. It must have resulted directly from the actions of the dentist (from the breached duty of care).
- The injury caused permanent or lasting damages. For instance, pulling a perfectly healthy tooth by mistake could be considered a permanent damage, as teeth do not grow back. If you were merely cut on the gums during a cleaning, you would not have lasting damage, and would not be able to sue. However, if the cut got infected and required additional medical treatment, you could still sue.
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Dental Equipment MalfunctionWithout a doubt, it is likely that a dental professional, whether a dentist or an assistant, directly causes harm to dental patients; however, in certain cases the injury is not the fault of the dentist, but rather attributed to the equipment failing to perform as intended. When the equipment fails it is considered a product liability case. Product liability cases are different than medical malpractice cases, because you are holding the manufacturer responsible for injuries.
How can a manufacturer be liable for the harm caused by the products that they produce?A manufacturer can be responsible when they market and distribute/sell a defective product. In general, the companies that manufacture dental equipment have the duty to ensure that their products are safe for their intended use. When products are unsafe in any way, they are defective. Products can be defective when they fail to work in the manner for which they were intended. There are few categories by which a product can be classified as defective, which include (1) defective design; (2) defective manufacturing; and (3) defective labeling or failure to warn. Defective design occurs when the product was designed in a manner which makes it inherently defective. Manufacturing defects apply when there is some error in the manufacturing or assembly process, which causes the accident. Defective labeling or Failure to warn cases arise when the manufacturer failed to warn the consumer of a risk present in the product (common warnings in products include laceration risks, shock risks, choking hazards, etc.). If you were injured because of a defective medical device used during your dental procedure you should be aware of your rights. In many cases you have the right to file a lawsuit for your injuries. Specifically, you have the right to pursue a product liability claim. As mentioned above, the companies that design and manufacture medical devices like those used by dental professionals have the duty to ensure that all their products are safe to be used during patient procedures. In most cases, only the manufacturers of the defective product could be held liable for the harm caused by the defective product. What if the dentist was aware that the product was defective? If the dentist had previous issues with a specific tool that made it clear that the product was defective but he or she still used the tool in your procedure (leading to preventable harm), the dentist could still be liable – for essentially failing to assess the risk of using a problematic piece of equipment on a patient.
Steps to Take to File a ClaimAfter you suffered any sort of harm due to dental malpractice, it is essential that you take the appropriate action – to ensure that you could pursue a claim. After all, you will likely have grounds to pursue a claim based on negligence. You will need to start gathering the tools necessary to file your claim almost immediately. First and foremost, if the damage is severe, go to the emergency room; you should go to another doctor or dentist immediately for an evaluation of the extent of the harm that you suffered. You may need to see an oral surgeon for additional dental work; an oral surgeon will do everything possible to reverse or minimize the damage that you were dealt.
Why is medical treatment so important?Immediate medical treatment is important for two reasons. One, you will be healthy and not subjected to further damage, and two, the sooner you get treated, the more apparent it will be that the malpractice caused your damage. If you wait too long to go to the doctor, the insurance company can claim that you were not hurt in the incident and you are instead trying to use it as a scapegoat to receive compensation. Next, you should take pictures of your injuries and damages, whether you went to the doctor or not. Evidence of these injuries will be important to your claim. You should take photos of your injuries both before and after receiving additional treatment. Additional evidence should include receipts from the dentist for any procedures, notes from the dentist or nurse on what was done, recommendations or referrals, bank statements, and more. If there were any eyewitnesses who could attest to the dentist’s wrong actions, such as dental assistants or patrons, you should try to get their information and record their statements. You should also alert your insurance company of any additional procedures that occurred without your consent or knowledge. Lastly, it is highly recommended that you seek out the help of an expert attorney who has experience in dental malpractice lawsuits. We can ensure that you won’t get lost in the legal process of your claim, and we have spent years with victims making sure their claims are efficiently and fairly handled.
Time Limit to File a LawsuitWhen considering the possibility of pursuing a claim for any sort of injury that you suffered, it is important to understand that all claims are subject to a statute of limitations In California, there is a statute of limitations of 1 year or 3 years to file a claim for dental malpractice. If you discovered the injury upon leaving the dentist at any point up to 1 year afterwards, you must file a claim no later than 1 year later. If a year passed with no knowledge of the injuries, you have 3 years from the date of the injuries themselves to take action.
Learn more about your options for compensation by calling (213) 389-3765.If the 3 years passes, you will not be able to file a claim. The statute of limitations is in place to ensure that claims are swiftly handled. When claims are handled promptly, evidence is preserved and witnesses have a higher chance of remembering all the key details. This is of utmost importance both for claimants and defendants alike (delayed claims can result in defendants not having enough evidence to disprove claims). Although the statute of limitations establishes a strict deadline to pursue your claim, exceptions could apply. You may be able to have the statute of limitations temporarily tolled, or suspended. This most commonly occurs when you are underage at the time of the injuries, which means that your statute of limitations would begin counting down when you turned 18 years old. The dentist also may have left the state in an attempt to wait out the statute, but the deadline would be kept afloat until he or she returned. Because you could lose your right to sue, it is important that you speak with a lawyer to figure out if you are eligible for any exceptions to the statute of limitations and how long you have to file a claim.
Claim Could I be Compensated?As with all personal injury lawsuits, the amount of compensation you receive can be extensive, and you can be covered for more than just the dental and medical bills. You can receive full coverage of these, of course, but you may also be covered for any additional or future treatments that need to occur because of the malpractice. You also may have suffered some kind of property damage. For example, if your braces were ruined, the repair costs could be reimbursed. You might have missed work due to the extensive procedures or injuries, and as a result, lost wages from the past and the future can also be reimbursed. Further, you might be able to receive copious pain and suffering damages. Like medical malpractice cases, which have caps on their pain and suffering damages, dental malpractice cases do not allow you to recover damages in excess of $250,000. These damages could include anxiety, fear, emotional trauma, psychological stress, PTSD, and much more.
Dental malpractice can be different then other types of malpractice cases for a number of reasons. Primarily because of the sensitivity of the area affected and the extent of the injury. As mentioned earlier because you are under anesthesia you are not able to express that you are being injured. This can cause serious nerve damage, which can damage your jaw muscles. These injuries may not develop until after the Novocain has worn off. If you have been injured contact Downtown L.A. Law for a free case evaluation.In some rare instances, a poor reaction to anesthesia, an allergy to a material used in a surgery, or other occurrence could result in the unfortunate and untimely death of a loved one or family member. If this occurs, your wrongful death claim could include funeral and burial expenses, loss of consortium, loss of expected savings and earnings, loss of expected inheritance, loss of sex, coverage of pre-death medical expenses, damages for pre-death pain and suffering, and much more. Although there is no guarantee regarding the specific compensation that might be available for claimants, it is important to understand that you could be eligible to recover monetary compensation if you were harmed by the negligent actions of another party – be it a dentist or a manufacturer of dental equipment. Because the compensation that you are eligible to recover is so case-specific, it is always recommended to seek legal assistance immediately to better understand the potential value of your claim. If you would like to learn more about the type and amount of compensation that you could be eligible to recover for your dental malpractice or oral surgery malpractice claim, it is essential that you speak to our experts. When you allow our lawyers to handle your claim, you can be certain that there will always be someone aggressively fighting for your right to be compensated – until you recover the maximum amount of compensation available for your dental case.