Just as physicians and surgeons can be held liable for treatment mistakes that cause harm to patients, so can dentists. But as with other forms of medical malpractice, not every unexpected or undesirable dental care outcome means the patient has a legal right to compensation. Here's what to know at the outset:
Dental malpractice occurs when a dental health care professional (including a dentist, hygienist, orthodontist, or oral surgeon):
Some of the most common dental malpractice scenarios include:
In order to make a successful case for dental malpractice, an injured patient (and their attorney) will typically need to establish:
The first element (existence of a dentist-patient relationship) isn't typically in dispute. Instead, most dental malpractice cases are won or lost somewhere in the interplay of the second and third elements:
Finally, it's important to consider the seriousness of the patient's "injury" before filing a lawsuit. If the harm is minor (such as temporary tooth pain or jaw discomfort), then, even if it was caused by a treatment mistake, it might not be worth the time and effort of making a dental malpractice claim.
In the language of personal injury law, the term "damages" refers to the entire spectrum of the injured claimant's harm. In a dental malpractice case, damages can include:
Learn more about damages in medical malpractice cases.
Not surprisingly, an injured patient's damages go a long way toward determining the potential value of their case.
Unlike most kinds of injury cases, when you bring a dental malpractice lawsuit (or any kind of medical malpractice claim) to court, you might need to take one or two additional steps. The specific procedure you'll need to follow will be dictated by your state's medical malpractice laws. But:
An attorney will be familiar with the procedural requirements for bringing a dental malpractice case to court in your state.
The lawsuit officially begins once a pleading (or "complaint") has been filed with the court, after or alongside the affidavit of merit or any other necessary pre-lawsuit filings.
The defendant dentist then has a certain amount of time to respond to the complaint (typically 20 to 30 days).
Most injury-related cases are much more likely to end in an out-of-court settlement than proceed all the way to trial. That's true of medical (and dental) malpractice cases too, but these are also some of the most difficult kinds for injured claimants to "win" in terms of receiving a fair settlement.
A medical malpractice article on one of our sister sites illustrates this difficulty:
Learn more about settling an injury case.
This is a common question on the minds of many injury claimants. But even if there were reliable, readily available data on the outcomes of dental malpractice lawsuits, that kind of information wouldn't offer much help in figuring out the value of your individual case.
The value of an injury claim is extremely case-specific, and the more reliable predictors come from key aspects of your own potential dental malpractice situation, namely:
Yes. It's not the case with every type of injury-related legal claim, but when you decide to sue a health care professional for malpractice, you need an experienced legal professional on your side. Dental malpractice cases are tough to win. They require:
As we've touched on above, even an experienced lawyer often needs to turn to other professionals for help with a medical malpractice case. That means relying on a network of medical expert witnesses and consultants to help build the best case for their client.
On top of all that, health care professionals of all kinds (and their liability insurers) tend to dig in and fight when a patient claims malpractice, and dental health professionals are no exception.
There's no substitute for a legal professional's experience and expertise (plus their willingness to battle it out) when you're considering suing a dentist for malpractice. At the same time, if you run your situation past several different lawyers and they all turn down the chance to represent you, it might be time to reconsider whether it's worth the significant time and effort it takes to pursue a dental malpractice case.
Your best first step might be reaching out to an experienced dental malpractice lawyer. You can use the features on this page to connect with an injury lawyer in your area.