Can you sue a dentist for negligence?

By | July 6, 2017

The short answer is yes, yet like most legal concerns, the act of suing a dentist for negligence/malpractice is complicated. If you think you have a basis for a malpractice suit against your dentist, you should absolutely consult an attorney that is well versed in malpractice litigation. Remember that the stakes for malpractice suits are very high for the medical practitioner. It will inevitably impact their career and income so be ready for a fight if you plan on suing for malpractice. And, before you start throwing money out for legal counsel, we want to give you three critical questions to consider to make sure you are not wasting your hard earned money. If you think you have legitimate answers to the following questions, you may have a case for malpractice against your dentist. 

What permanent damage did the dentist cause with his/her malpractice?

This question is the most important for winning a malpractice case. If there is no way to prove life altering damage caused by the negligence, then there is no reason to even consider suing. In fact, unlike some medical malpractice suits, dentists are less likely to settle the lawsuit due to how difficult it is to prove life altering damage in terms of dental malpractice. On top of that, the stakes are higher for dentists than medical doctors.

Medical doctors can recover from a malpractice lawsuit due to the ‘life or death’ nature of their work. Dentists, on the other hand, work in a field where most procedures are not life threatening, and the patients have plenty of time to do research and choose their dentist. Therefore, settling a single malpractice suit is going to impact a dentist much more than a doctor in the long run. Sometimes, patients will sue a medical doctor for malpractice to make a quick buck on a settlement deal. However, trying to get a quick settlement of your dentist is far less likely. Dentists will inevitably be more likely to see out the entire litigation process for their suite because if there is even a slim chance that they win, it will be far more beneficial for them and their business in the long run.

Can you sue your dentist for nerve damage?

If you can prove damages, the next step is making sure you can show the dentist was the cause of the damage. Proving causation is more complicated than most people initially think, and proving causation beyond a shadow of a doubt is where a lawyer will come in handy. They are familiar with the documentation and witnesses needed to prove causation. If you think you can prove damages and causation, you have likely reached the appropriate point to seek legal counsel. Make sure that you are seeking a lawyer that is well versed in malpractice litigation. A malpractice lawsuit is incredibly complex and unique. The lawyer should be able to take you through the more complex parts of proving causation in a malpractice suit and affirm if you have an actual case or not. Additionally, be totally honest with your lawyer. They are going to build a malpractice case around exactly what you tell them. Getting your lawyer blindsided by the opposition is one of the worst things you can do to them. Do not fib to make it seem more like the dentists caused the damage. Be honest and be ready to hear that you do not have a real case.

Can you prove that the dentist was in breach of duty?

The first thing the lawyer is going to do if you can prove damages and causation is make sure the narrative shows that the dentist in question was in breach of ‘duty.’ A dentist’s duty is essentially to make the best decision for the patient based on local standards of care. The term ‘local’ is very important to consider. It means that a dentist in inner city New York may not make the same decisions for his or her patients as a dentist in rural Kansas. Cultural values shift thus standards of care also shift. If your malpractice case is based on the fact that your cousin in another state received different treatment options, maybe suing is not the best choice for you.

Similarly, being unsatisfied with the procedure is not a legitimate reason to sue.  If you are simply dissatisfied with the outcome of a certain procedure, you may want to reconsider legal action as well. While regretting a procedure is personally frustrating, the legal system will not consider your personal feelings. Your personal anger is another reason to consult a lawyer early on in the process. They are paid to be level headed in regard to court cases and clients. Your lawyer will not hesitate to tell you that you are simply being hot headed and you have no case.

Malpractice is an unfortunate reality of the current medical system, and dentists are a part of that. The absolute best way to deal with malpractice lawsuits is obviously to avoid them in the first place. While this is not always an option, there are steps you can take in order to minimize your risk. First, before getting any dental procedure, or medical procedure for that matter, it is recommended that you take careful consideration of the consequences of the procedure.  Do not rush into a procedure and do some research to make sure it is really the best option for you. Then, ask questions about the procedure. Not only is it the dentist’s job to answer your questions, but being informed will also help you if you do end up suing for malpractice. If you had no idea what the procedure was or how it worked, it will be difficult to prove that the dentist was in breach of duty. Finally, research your options. Perhaps there is a better way for you to deal with the condition you have. Maybe you do not need surgery or dental work done. Or, perhaps there is a more qualified dentist to handle the procedure. Whatever the case is, make sure it is right for you.

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