Like doctors, dentists can be sued for malpractice. In the past, it was assumed that suits against dentists would result in such minor damages that they were not worthwhile. Recently, however, some suits against dentists for negligent treatment have resulted in large jury verdicts. As a result, more and more attorneys are willing to take on dental malpractice suits.
Dentists owe a duty to their patients to perform as a reasonably competent dentist. To prevail in a dental malpractice action, a plaintiff must demonstrate that a dentist breached this duty and that the breach caused damages. In nearly all instances, an expert opinion is required to support a claim for dental malpractice. A bad dental result is not, in and of itself, evidence of malpractice. A jury must find that the dentist was negligent and that the negligence was the cause of the injury.
Contributory negligence – negligence of the patient – plays a big role in dental malpractice cases. Because patients often put off dental problems or do not follow up with dental appointments as well as they should, dental problems are often exacerbated. If a lawsuit results, the dentist can claim that the patient’s negligence in failing to follow the dentist’s recommendations was the cause or partial cause of the damages.
Dentists have a right to refuse to treat certain patients, such as patients who lack insurance. However, the refusal to treat a patient cannot be based on the patient’s race, color, creed, or religious beliefs. Dentists can also refuse to treat patients with certain medical conditions, such as AIDS, that are transmittable through dental care. However, once a dentist agrees to treat a patient, a dentist-patient relationship is formed and the dentist has an obligation to the patient to provide reasonable dental care. Abandoning a patient after forming a relationship can be the basis for malpractice liability.
Some examples of dental malpractice are as follows:
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