An autopsy report disclosed that 17-year-old Christopher Power suffered irreversible brain damage and eventually died after undergoing routine wisdom tooth extraction at Kissimmee Family Dentistry in Orange County, Florida. Dr. Steven Baxter, who performed the surgery, administered conscious sedation.
Two days after the procedure, Power was declared brain-dead, leading his family to make the agonizing decision to end life support. The autopsy indicated that Power stopped breathing during the surgery, resulting in catastrophic brain injury and cardiopulmonary arrest. Notably, there were no pre-existing medical conditions that could have led to this outcome.
Furthermore, the absence of an anesthesia record raises questions about the monitoring of Power's vitals during the operation. It also hampers the determination of whether the anesthesia was given all at once or gradually, which could have clarified when complications arose.
The family has prepared a lawsuit against Dr. Baxter and Kissimmee Family Dentistry. Additionally, the State Department of Health / Florida Board of Dentistry has a signed order showing that Dr. Baxter voluntarily relinquished his license in the aftermath of this incident.
Also in the aftermath of this incident, Legislators are considering a review of guidelines for administering conscious sedation. Meanwhile, the family has questioned whether sufficient equipment and monitoring were available when their son's health deteriorated unexpectedly.
A representative for Dr. Baxter stated that all monitoring protocols were followed, but no copy of the anesthesia record was retained by the dental office.
Pursuing a Wrongful Death Claim Against a Dentist for Anesthesia Errors Under Florida Law
The loss of a loved one due to errors during a dental procedure is a devastating ordeal. When these errors occur due to anesthesia complications, the family may decide to seek legal recourse. Below, we will outline the procedure for pursuing a wrongful death claim against a dentist under Florida law, focusing on anesthesia-related mistakes.
Understanding Florida's Wrongful Death Act
Florida's Wrongful Death Act allows the decedent's estate and certain family members to bring forth a claim against the negligent party. To succeed in such a claim, it is essential to prove that the dentist's actions failed to meet the established standard of care within the dental profession and directly caused the patient's death.
Initial Consultation: Legal and Medical Expertise Required
Begin by consulting a Florida-based wrongful death attorney who handles dental malpractice cases. An experienced attorney can evaluate the specific details of your case, including any medical records or autopsy findings that indicate anesthesia errors. Legal representation is essential to navigate Florida’s statute of limitations for wrongful death claims, which is generally two years from the date of death.
Gathering Evidence: Anesthesia Records, Witness Statements, and More
In wrongful death cases involving anesthesia errors, the absence or presence of anesthesia records is critical. Obtain any existing records and consult medical experts to analyze whether the administered anesthesia met the standard guidelines for the dental procedure. Witness statements from attending healthcare staff can also strengthen your case.
Pre-litigation Steps: Notice of Intent and Mandatory Settlement Conference
Before filing a lawsuit based on dental malpractice in Florida, you must send a notice of intent to the dentist involved. This notice should contain an affidavit from a qualified medical expert confirming that there are reasonable grounds to believe that medical negligence occurred. Once the notice is submitted, Florida law mandates a 90-day pre-suit investigatory period during which both parties attempt to resolve the case.
Filing the Lawsuit and Possible Outcomes
If the pre-litigation steps fail to produce a settlement, you and your attorney may decide to proceed with filing a formal lawsuit. Florida courts may award various types of damages, including medical and funeral expenses, loss of earnings, and emotional suffering of surviving family members.
The Role of the Florida State Department of Health
Note that aside from your legal proceedings, the Florida State Department of Health / Florida Board of Dentistry may conduct its own investigation into the dentist's conduct, particularly if anesthesia errors are suspected. Their findings can determine whether the dentist is allowed to practice in Florida following an incident of dental malpractice.