When things go wrong at the dentist’s office, you can suffer pain, the unnecessary loss of teeth, untreated cancer, and disfigurement, among other things. Georgia law allows you to sue dentists for malpractice, just like other doctors. In fact, the malpractice laws that apply to doctors include dentists and many other healthcare professionals.
The Elements We Have to Prove in Dental Malpractice Cases
As with any health care provider malpractice case, the elements of a dental malpractice claim are:
A Health Care Provider-Patient Relationship
If the person who made the mistake was your dentist or someone in the dentist’s office, such as the dental hygienist who cleans your teeth, the facts satisfy this element. A dental professional has a duty of care toward patients, which is to provide dental services at the level that a reasonable similar dental professional would practice under similar circumstances. For example, your dentist has a duty to evaluate unusual sores in your mouth.
Standard of Care
The dentist or employee of the dentist failed to meet the standard of care. Failing to meet the standard of care is a breach of the duty between the dental professional and the patient, also called negligence. Let’s say that you had unusual sores in your mouth that a reasonable similar dentist would evaluate for the possibility of oral cancer, but your dentist ignored them. Failing to evaluate the sores would be negligence.
Harm Was Suffered
The patient suffered harm as a result of the dental professional’s negligence. For example, if you had oral cancer that progressed to a more severe level because of the dentist’s failure to evaluate and diagnose the condition, you suffered harm.
The harm involves measurable damages. If you had to undergo the surgical removal of part of your tongue, for example, as a result of the delayed diagnosis, you have measurable damages resulting from the negligence. Some of your measurable damages can include the increased medical and dental expenses you had because of the delayed diagnosis and lost income from the additional treatments you needed because of the negligence.
The Requirement of an Expert Affidavit
When you file a lawsuit alleging dental malpractice, Georgia law requires you also to file a written affidavit of an expert who would qualify as an expert witness at trial. The affidavit must identify at least one alleged negligent act or omission and the facts that support each such allegation.
If the deadline for filing suit (statute of limitations) is about to expire, you can file the initial papers with the court without an expert affidavit and request an extension of time (up to 45 days) to file the document. The court can dismiss the petition in a dental malpractice claim when the plaintiff does not file an expert affidavit.
You Have a Short Deadline for Dental Malpractice Lawsuits
All states limit the amount of time you have to file lawsuits. You only have two years to file a dental malpractice action in Georgia under the statute of limitations. If you miss this deadline and do not qualify for a longer statute of limitations, the law will never allow you to file your dental malpractice lawsuit, no matter how compelling your evidence is.
Under certain circumstances, the court will extend the deadline up to a total of five years from the date of injury or death from the negligence, wrongful act, or omission. Minor children have from two years to five years or until their tenth birthday to file suit, depending on the circumstances of the alleged malpractice.
A person who has an intellectual disability or mental illness that renders the person legally incompetent has up to five years from the date of injury to file a dental malpractice lawsuit.
Damages for Dental Malpractice
The damages you can recover will depend on the facts of your case. Some of the typical damages for dental malpractice include:
- Additional medical or dental costs you incurred as a result of the malpractice, including the cost of repairing damage to your teeth, jaw, gums, or mouth
- Lost wages to replace income you missed out on because of additional procedures and recuperation
- Disfigurement if the dentist’s mistakes affected your appearance
- Pain and suffering for the physical pain and emotional distress you experienced
Limits on Malpractice Damages
Georgia used to limit the non-economic damages (like pain and suffering) you could receive for dental malpractice, but courts declared these restrictions unconstitutional, so they are no longer used. Those limits were $350,000 for non-economic damages and a total of $1,050,000 in damages for all defendants combined.
Georgia’s punitive damages limit of $250,000 is still in place unless you have a rare case in which you can prove intentional harm. If you can convince the judge of malicious behavior by the dentist, in which their goal was to hurt the patient, there is no $250,000 limit on punitive damages.
Examples of Potential Dental Malpractice
While these are not necessarily dental malpractice in every situation, here are some of the more common reasons that people may file a dental malpractice claim:
- Performing procedures without informed consent
- Not diagnosing medical conditions, such as oral cancer
- Complications, like infection
- Anesthesia mistakes
- Not referring the patient to a specialist when appropriate
- Improper supervision of employees, like dental assistants
How to Get Help for Your Dental Malpractice Claim
The dentist’s professional malpractice liability insurance carrier may have a team of lawyers ready to defend lawsuits.
If you suspect that you have been the victim of dental malpractice, The Law Office of Jason R. Schultz, PC can help. We will evaluate your situation and tell you if you might have a claim against your dentist. We do not charge any legal fees until you get compensation.
For a free consultation, please call 404-474-0804.