If you have suffered an injury while at the dentist, orthodontist, or oral surgeon, you may have a valid dental malpractice claim. While the majority of dentists in Seattle, Kirkland, Bellingham, Olympia and across Washington State are very good at what they do, there are, on occasion, mistakes that are made, and some of these mistakes can lead to serious injuries. Before filing a claim against the dentist or his or her insurance carrier, it is important to understand what you must prove in order to prevail in a dental malpractice claim. Washington State Dental Malpractice Laws
In Washington State, RCW 7.70.040 establishes the elements that a patient has to prove against his or her dentist, oral surgeon, or orthodontist in order to prevail.
- The health care provider failed to exercise that degree of care, skill, and learning expected of a reasonably prudent health care provider at that time in the profession or class to which he or she belongs, in the state of Washington, acting in the same or similar circumstances;
- Such failure was a proximate cause of the injury complained of.
In other words, a patient has to prove that the dentist fell beneath the accepted standard of care of a dentist in Washington State and that the patient’s injuries resulted from the dentist falling beneath the standard of care.Common Dental Malpractice Injuries
- Removing the wrong tooth
- Severing a nerve during a tooth extraction
- Cuts and resulting scars from a cavity filling
- Root canal or bridge procedures that have gone wrong, and
- Failing to diagnose a serious condition
While the above list is the most frequently-seen examples of the kinds of harm that results from dental malpractice, this is not a complete list. By far the most common source of dental malpractice cases stem from a tooth extraction gone wrong.
When a tooth extraction goes badly, infections often arise. Sometimes infections can be so serious that the patient will have to be hospitalized, and on rare occasions, the patient can even die from the ill-effects of an infection. Other ill-effects of tooth extractions gone wrong can be the severing of a nerve, typically the lingual nerve. When the lingual nerve is severed, there are often very serious damages that result, including intense pain and numbness that surgery may not be able to correct.
Regardless of how the malpractice occurs, these cases are very difficult for a patient to win. This is because dentists, like other doctors and medical professionals, are held to the standard of care of other healthcare professionals in the State of Washington. In order to prevail, the patient, typically through an attorney, must hire experts to review medical records and make opinions about a dentist’s care. This process can be quite expensive and these cases can take a considerable amount of time, effort, and skill to successfully litigate.Insurance Considerations
If you have suffered a lingual nerve injury or some other kind of injury from the error or negligence of a dentist, your only option to receive compensation for your injuries may be to file a lawsuit against the dentist or dental practice. If you do this, you may feel some reservations about this since you may have positive feelings towards your dentist, or at least you might have before you were injured.
However, you need to understand that chances are extremely high that the dentist or dental office had malpractice insurance at the time you were injured. This means that while the lawsuit will still be against the dentist or dental office, or both, it will be an insurance company that will be paying for the lawyer to defend the dentist, and most significantly, if a settlement is reached for your injuries, the money will be coming from the insurance company, not the dentist himself or herself.
The idea of insurance insuring the dentist is no different than if you were involved in a car accident and suing the driver who hit you—their insurance would pay your settlement.Can I Still Sue My Dentist Even Though I Signed an Informed Consent Form?
Most of the time when you go to the dentist or oral surgeon, prior to having a procedure done, they make you sign an informed consent form. This form is not something most people read. It’s long and filled with legal and medical jargon, so most people just sign their name and never think twice about what they are being warned about.
Normally, these informed consent forms do warn people about potential complications and problems with the dental or oral surgery procedure that is going to be done on them. This includes the possibility of a lingual nerve injury, including permanent numbness or pain from the nerve being injured or even severed. However, this form will not permanently stop someone from bringing a claim against the dentist or oral surgeon if they signed, but they are a warning of what you could face from the procedure.Who Will Pay My Medical Bills After a Dentist Injures Me?
After you are the victim of a dentist’s mistake, you are likely receiving significant medical bills from all of the medical providers you are seeing. If that is the case, you are understandably concerned that your bills may not be getting paid. While it may seem like common sense for you to submit your medical bills to the dentist who caused your injuries, it would be very unusual for the dentist to pay your bills.
Rather, what you need to do is this: you need to contact your health insurance company and have them pay your bills. They may open up a claim on your behalf and pay your bills, but be aware that they may set up what is called a subrogation file. This means that for the medical bill portion of your case—see below for all of the damages you are allowed to receive—your insurance company will be repaid from the dentist’s insurance company once a settlement is reached. This subrogation process may seem unfair, but it is the law.Steps to Take to Improve Your Case
After suffering a dental malpractice injury or lingual nerve injury, then there are some things you should do to help your case. Below is a common-sense list of things you can do to help your case:
- Do not mention your injuries or post pictures of your injuries on social media, especially Facebook and Instagram.
- Make sure to clearly communicate to your doctor and medical providers that the medical issues you are facing, and why you are seeing this doctor, is because of the dentist’s negligence.
- Take pictures of your mouth and where you were injured if you are able.
- Keep a log or journal of what you’re going through in terms of pain, discomfort, and food and drinks you cannot taste.
- Speak to a qualified and well-experienced personal injury attorney about your case.
After a dental malpractice matter, you need to understand legal rights you have available to you. They may not be what you think. In this state, after a dentist commits negligence against you, meaning that your injuries resulted because of a dentist’s care being substandard, you are allowed to recover the following:
- Medical bills
- Future medical bills
- Lost wages
- Future lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Out of pocket expenses
- Loss of consortium
What does loss of consortium mean? This means that if your spouse or legal partner’s life was affected by the dental malpractice or lingual nerve injury that took place that they are allowed to recover money for their damages as well. This is not as common as receiving money for the other categories of damages, but it is available, especially if you can show that the romantic portion of your life was affected by the injury to your mouth or because of a lingual nerve injury.
While it may seem hard to believe, the insurance company for the dentist may not be ready and willing to offer you a fair settlement for your injuries. In many cases, they will deny that the dentist did anything wrong in the first place. You need, and indeed must have, the right expert on your case who will be able to say that the dentist made a mistake. The Jackman Law Firm has the resources and connections to the right kind of expert for your case.
Because of that, we are very successful negotiating with the dentist’s insurance company to make sure you get a fair settlement for your injuries. If we cannot settle your case out of court, then we will take your case to trial and obtain a verdict from the jury. We have a long track record of successfully winning large verdicts for our clients.
Call us for a free consultation.