What are the leading reasons for dental malpractice lawsuits?

Most dentists are committed to providing quality care to their patients. Nonetheless, sometimes things can wrong with a patient’s treatment, resulting in a dental malpractice lawsuit. This article is a brief look at some of the main reasons for dental malpractice lawsuits.

Explanation of Procedure

It is imperative that a patient understands the need for a procedure, and a dentist must explain this clearly and carefully. Moreover, the dentist should document in the patient’s chart that the risks, benefits and alternatives were discussed with the patient. Having written verification that such a communication took place can serve as important evidence in the event of a dental malpractice lawsuit.  This also helps with the patient being able to provide “informed” consent.

Permanent Damage

Although the majority of dental procedures are problem free, unforeseen issues can arise, or mistakes can occur. In these situations it is crucial to communicate with the patient, and offer him or her a number of options to correct the problem, such as re-treatment. Another alternative is to refer the patient to another dentist or specialist. By failing to make an effort to fix the problem and communicate with the patient, a dentist faces the potential of a lawsuit.

Failure to Refer to a Specialist

While most dentists are trained to handle a wide range of procedures, there are cases that may be beyond their level of expertise. However, dentists must provide the same standard of care that a reasonably skilled physician would have provided under the same circumstances. If the treatment required is beyond a dentist’s comfort level, the patient should be referred to a specialist.

Abandonment of a Patient

It is especially important to communicate with difficult patients. A patient who is unhappy with his or her treatment may go to another dentist and find the work needs to be redone or that the previous work was not done correctly. In short, it is crucial to listen to patients’ concerns and take steps not to lose them, otherwise a dental malpractice lawsuit may arise.

Failure to Obtain Informed Consent

Dentists have a legal obligation to provide patients with all relevant information regarding a procedure or course of treatment, and obtain their written consent before proceeding. A dental malpractice lawsuit can be brought if the patient can show that (1) he or she would not have consented to a procedure that led to an injury had the right information been provided, or (2) an injury resulted that was not disclosed as a potential risk.

The Bottom Line

It is important for dentists to communicate with their patients and provide them with the appropriate standard of care. Nonetheless, things can go wrong which can lead to a patient’s injury. While not all states require dentists to carry medical malpractice insurance, having proper coverage can protect a dentist from financial losses. Ultimately, an attorney who is dedicated to dental professionals can provide advice and counsel on how to avoid dental malpractice lawsuits.