Dental malpractice occurs when a patient suffers harm because of inadequate care. Dental professionals and staff—such as dentists, oral surgeons, orthodontists, and nurses—have a duty to treat their patients to the best of their ability. When substandard treatment leads to harm, patients have a legal right to sue the individual or facility responsible for their injury for any related losses.
However, filing a dental malpractice lawsuit isn’t as easy as receiving substandard dental care. Malpractice claims can be extremely fraught and complicated, especially to those new to such matters. To determine whether you can win a dental malpractice lawsuit you must first be sure that you have a valid malpractice claim in the first place. Our Santa Clarita dental malpractice attorney explains everything you need to know.
Elements of a Dental Malpractice Lawsuit
The most important thing to note about filing a lawsuit for any kind of malpractice is that you must be able to prove negligence. All lawsuits require a plaintiff (in this case, the injured patient) and a defendant (the individual or organization that caused harm). The defendant can only be held liable for a plaintiff’s injuries only if the latter can prove that the former caused harm due to a failure to exercise appropriate and/or ethical care.
This means that you cannot file a dental malpractice lawsuit just because your dentist made a simple mistake or you feel unsatisfied with your treatment. Actual, avoidable harm must have resulted to constitute dental malpractice.
Examples of dental malpractice include:
- Performing a medical procedure incorrectly or on the wrong patient
- Failure to properly treat conditions, especially when treatment is already well known and documented
- Improperly administered anesthesia, which can lead to allergic reactions, brain damage, or death
- Lack of informed consent (not telling patients about the risks involved in a proposed medical procedure or treatment)
Aside from negligence, another major component of dental malpractice lawsuits is the medical standard of care. All medical professionals are held to this standard (also known as the “duty of care”), which means that they are responsible for providing the same level of medical care that a similarly skilled professional would have provided under the same treatment circumstances.
In order to establish a legitimate dental malpractice claim, an injured patient (and/or their attorney) will need to establish the following:
- A dentist-patient relationship existed between the plaintiff and the defendant
- The dentist (or other practitioner) should have been aware of the appropriate medical standard of care under the circumstances
- The standard of care was breached by the dentist, causing (or exacerbating) injury to the patient
- The patient’s injury lead to compensable damages, such as lost wages and additional medical bills
"Breach" and "causation" are especially critical elements of malpractice claims. As the plaintiff, it is on you to prove that a dentist either caused an injury or made an existing condition worse due to their action or lack of action.
Building a Winning Dental Malpractice Lawsuit
Now that you understand the basic elements of a dental malpractice claim, you may have begun to understand why these cases are so complex. How do you prove that your dentist caused you injury if it’s just your word against theirs? Most injured patients are stumped by their lack of medical knowledge, not to mention that medical practitioners and facilities tend to fight very hard against malpractice claims. It can be a lot to go up against.
Fortunately, you can fight back—and win. However, we do not recommend doing so until you have a very good idea of what is involved.
First, you will have to enlist an expert witness to argue your case. In this case, your expert witness would be another dentist who can verify that your treatment was indeed substandard and negligent. Since most plaintiffs are unfamiliar with medical jargon and procedures, having a medical expert testify on their behalf is crucial.
Next, you will have to produce evidence to support your claim. Make sure to save all correspondence, bills, and other documentation related to your injury in a single, safe place.
Relevant evidence to support your dental malpractice lawsuit may include:
- Copies of communications with the dentist who caused your injury
- Medical records which verify your injuries from another doctor or dentist
- Photographs depicting your injuries and the effects
- Statements from witnesses, family, and/or friends who were either present at your procedure or witnessed its effects
- A statement from your employer showing wages lost (if you had to take time off work for recovery)
Finally, contact a lawyer. An experienced dental malpractice attorney can help you determine whether you are able to pursue a lawsuit and can work with you to procure evidence and expert witnesses to back up your claim. By working with a legal professional who understands the ins and outs of such claims, you significantly improve your chances of winning a dental malpractice lawsuit.
If your injury was minor and didn’t cause you much pain or stress, it likely isn’t worth the time and expense of a lawsuit—even if malpractice was involved (do speak up and file a complaint against the offending dentist, though).
However, if you or a loved one has been severely harmed by a dental error, the effects can be profound. You or the victim may be facing disfigurement, pain, costly medical bills, and other stresses due to the injury. In such cases, it is absolutely worth pursuing a medical malpractice claim, even in spite of the many challenges.
Our Santa Clarita dental malpractice attorney has over 35 of legal experience and is a dentist himself. To learn more about how Attorney Dean Schweitzer and the rest of our legal team can help you if you have been the victim of dental malpractice, call (661) 460-5795 for a free consultation.