Going to the dentist is already a nightmare without having something go wrong. It's infinitely worse when you're the victim of dental malpractice. Sometimes, a routine extraction can go horribly wrong if the dentist gets into too big a hurry and mistakenly extracts the wrong tooth. If this describes your situation, you might be wondering: Can you sue if your dentist pulls out the wrong tooth?
In this article, we'll talk about some of the basics of dental malpractice. We'll also discuss your rights if you're the victim of a wrong tooth extraction.
Overview of Wrong Tooth Extraction Cases
Dental malpractice claims are governed by the medical malpractice laws of most states. That's how it works in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. There are unique laws designed to protect doctors and ostensibly deter frivolous medical malpractice claims that create huge hurdles for folks seeking justice.
This presents a particularly troubling issue for victims of dental malpractice because their damages are often not extremely high unless there's permanent damage or someone dies. Nevertheless, the law requires victims of dental malpractice to get the help of an expert witness, which is extremely expensive and can eat up the entire value of the case. Thus, the battle of proving liability can quickly become more expensive than the value of the case.
However, in cases involving extreme and blatant negligence, like a case where a dentist pulled the wrong tooth, a claimant can still get justice because there's not much to fight about. In these cases, the parties may be able to come to a resolution without spending a ton of money on expert witnesses.
What Do You Have to Prove to Win a Case If Your Dentist Pulled the Wrong Tooth?
In any type of negligence case or personal injury case, you're going to need to establish negligence. The good thing here is that negligence is pretty much the same in most states. There are 4 elements you typically have to prove in order to have a "winning" case:
The first element is duty. You have to prove the dentist owed you a duty of care. This is very easy to prove in a dental malpractice case because dentists owe their patients a duty of care.
Breach of Duty
Here, you need an expert witness to provide an affidavit that spells out how the dentist breached the prevailing standard of care. In other words, a lawyer can't say what a dentist should or shouldn't do while extracting teeth. The law requires an expert to establish this element of negligence.
The next element is causation, and this involves showing that the dentist's breach of the standard of care--the dentist's negligence--was the cause of the patient's harm. If a dentist pulled the wrong tooth, it's pretty easy to show that the dentist caused the harm to the patient. However, in some dental malpractice cases, the element of causation can be difficult to establish.
The patient must have suffered damages to have a viable dental malpractice case. If the dentist pulls the wrong tooth, the patient has lost a healthy tooth. Moreover, the patient will have to go to extra dental visits to get the damage repaired and likely miss some work. Also, the patient will probably have to have the other tooth removed--the one that should've been removed in the first place. Thus, there are many ways a patient suffers damages after a dentist extracts the wrong tooth.
The Process of Bringing a Dental Malpractice Claim
When you pursue damages for a dental malpractice claim, the process is usually very different than your typical personal injury case, depending on the statute where you're bringing the claim. Most states require a pre-suit process, which is often called the "Notice of Intent to Initiate Litigation" or NOI phase. The purpose here is to make sure both sides thoroughly investigate the claim, and (theoretically) reduce the number of medical malpractice cases.
Let's talk about this pre-suit process a bit more and how it works in Florida. Often times, the process goes like this:
- Consult with a dental malpractice lawyer and determine the best steps moving forward.
- Gather medical records from the dental practice where you were injured, as well as from the dentists and doctors you've seen for your injury.
- Organize the medical records and give them to an expert witness for review.
- Get an expert affidavit from the expert, which describes the dentist's negligence and specific breaches of the standard of care.
- Send an NOI letter to the offending dentist and any other potential defendants.
- Engage in the pre-suit investigations (this period is typically 90 days in Florida).
- Negotiate a settlement or go to pre-suit mediation.
- If no settlement can be reached, file a lawsuit.
- Engage in discovery.
- Negotiate a settlement or go to mediation.
- If no settlement can be reached, go to trial.
Florida is not very different from other states. South Carolina has a similar NOI requirement, but we typically file the NOI with the court in South Carolina, whereas we send the NOI directly to the potential-defendant in Florida.
Wrong Tooth Extraction Compensation
The question many folks have when talking about these cases is how much compensation they are entitled to when a dentist pulls the wrong tooth. Unfortunately, some folks think these cases are lottery cards, and they're in for a big surprise when they get in front of a jury because almost everyone, including jurors, have experienced dental pain and dental issues. However, jurors didn't get paid for what they went through, and they're not usually extremely sympathetic to a person's dental pain and suffering. Insurance companies know this, and they are not usually willing to pay much for pain and suffering in a dental malpractice case.
When we're valuing a dental malpractice case where there's no permanent injury, we have to look at several objective questions to determine the proper value of the case:
- Did you lose a healthy tooth?
- Do the medical records show that the dentist pulled the wrong tooth?
- How much will it cost to fix the issue?
- Is there any permanent damage that will last a lifetime?
- Did you miss any work because of the wrong tooth extraction?
- How much will it cost the defense to fight the case?
The last factor--the cost of defense--is the one factor the insurance companies don't want to talk about. Often times, the insurance company focuses on how much it'll cost to fix the issue. In any personal injury case, the medical damages will make up the foundation for the case's value. In wrong tooth extractions, the medical damages will typically depend upon the cost of getting a dental implant, and possibly a bone graft and/or sinus lift procedure.
Dental implant placement and restoration (if done by a trained implantologist) will usually cost somewhere between $5,000 and $7,500, with everything included. If done by a run-of-the-mill dentist, this may only cost $1,000-$3,000. However, if someone injures you through dental negligence, you don't have to choose the cheapest solution; you have the right to seek excellent medical care.
The insurance company is going to look at the medical damages, and they're going to say the claim is worth a little more than the medical damages. However, these cases can bring a bit more value because the cost of litigating a dental malpractice case is very high. Think about it: The insurance company has to pay an attorney several hundred dollars per hour, and they have to pay an expert witness hundreds of dollars an hour to review the case. Similarly, the claimant has to spend hundreds of dollars an hour on an expert too, and they know this.
Ultimately, an average settlement value for a case involving a wrong tooth extraction can vary. The only way to get a feel for the value of a case is to look at the specific facts and then compare that case to similar cases that have settled or resolved. Thus, you should speak with a dental malpractice lawyer to help you determine what kind of value you should be seeking for your wrong tooth extraction case.
FAQs related to the question: Can you sue if dentist pulls wrong tooth?
Q1: What happens if a dentist extracts the wrong tooth?
A1: Usually, when a dentist pulls the wrong tooth, the patient loses that tooth. It's interesting because in many of these cases, the dentist could have simply put the tooth back and sutured it in, and it probably would have been OK. However, when a dentist pulls the wrong tooth, they often panic a little bit, and that's understandable. This can (and usually does) result in the patient losing the tooth.
Q2: How common is it for a dentist to pull the wrong tooth?
A2: We hear about a dentist who pulled the wrong tooth far more often than we used to. The reality is that dentistry has changed from personal, family-owned, small businesses to Wall Street-owned dental service organizations. Thus, dentistry is all about the bottom line now, and doctors aren't spending the time they used to spend with their patients. With all these dentists rushing around to shave off 10 seconds here and a minute there, we're seeing a lot more ridiculous dental malpractice incidents.
Q3: Can I sue my dentist for pulling the wrong tooth?
A3: Usually, you can. The key is to be able to prove that the dentist did, in fact, pull the wrong tooth. If you can do that, the other side will have a hard time arguing that the dentist did nothing wrong.
Q4: What is the statute of limitations for bringing a dental malpractice claim after a dentist pulls the wrong tooth?
A4: Typically, state medical malpractice statutes have a complex statute of limitations that runs either from the date of the incident or the date at which the patient knew or should have known that they were injured by dental negligence. Because a wrong tooth extraction is so obvious, you could start the statute of limitations timer from the day of the procedure or incident because most people will realize when their dentist pulled the wrong tooth. In Florida and Georgia, you generally have 2 years from the date of the incident, and in South Carolina and North Carolina, you generally have 3 years.
Q5: How do you know if a tooth extraction has gone wrong?
A5: Whether you know if something went wrong will depend upon the type of damage. If your dentist pulled the wrong tooth, you'll likely know right after the procedure or within a day or so. If the dentist caused nerve damage during the extraction, you may not realize you've suffered nerve damage until a significant amount of time passes without any improvement in the numb sensations.