When a person gets injured as a result of dental malpractice, there are often various financial losses associate with that injury. As a result, folks want to know what their dental malpractice case is worth and whether they will be able to cover their medical expenses and other losses.
Dental malpractice settlements can differ significantly based on a number of factors, the most obvious of which include the severity of the victim's injuries and the state or venue where the malpractice occurred. Dental malpractice cases are very different than other types of personal injury cases. Unfortunately, victims are often caught off guard when they discover that the deck is stacked against victims and in favor of doctors in most states. Overall, state laws tend to greatly restrict damages available in dental malpractice cases, and these laws greatly favor doctors and dentists.
In this article, we’re going to talk about dental malpractice lawsuits and dental malpractice settlement amounts. Our goal is to help dental malpractice victims better understand the road ahead and the challenges involved in getting a successful outcome in a dental malpractice case.
Dental Malpractice Lawsuits Generally
Dentists are responsible for providing a level of care that is expected as the standard in dentistry. This is sometimes referred to as the “Standard of Care” in dentistry. If a dentist breaches the standard of care and causes injury to a patient as a result, the victim may be eligible for compensation that covers things like medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. When a victim gets injured and discovers that the injury is due to dental malpractice, and then that victim discovers the cost of that injury, this is when the victim will typically seek out the help of a dental malpractice lawyer.
Common Reasons for Filing Dental Malpractice Lawsuits in Florida
When a dentist or a member of the dental team acts negligently, it can lead to a dental malpractice claim. Some types of dental malpractice occur more frequently than others, such as:
- Failing to treat or diagnose cancer
- Damaging the inferior alveolar nerve
- Damaging the lingual nerve
- Destroying a healthy tooth
- Performing subpar restorative procedures that lead to decay and loss of teeth
Common Injuries from Dental Malpractice
Injuries resulting from dental malpractice can be extremely painful, necessitate further treatment for correction, and may take an extended period for the patient to recover. The most prevalent injuries caused by dental malpractice include:
- Nerve damage
- Structural damage to the mouth, such as jaw injuries
- Injury or illness due to the failure to detect an oral disease, like oral cancer
- Infections like sepsis and osteomyelitis
- Trauma to a healthy tooth
If you experience any of these injuries as a consequence of dental malpractice, you should consult a dental malpractice attorney who can assist you in your dental malpractice claim and protect your rights every step of the way.
Damages Factored into Dental Malpractice Settlement Amounts
Dental malpractice settlements cover a bunch of different types of damages. Patients often lose a lot of money when dental procedures go wrong. They also can suffer tremendously, especially when they get a horrible infection or suffer permanent nerve damage. Overall, dental malpractice lawsuits usually involve two main categories of damages: economic and noneconomic damages.
Economic damages are those financial losses that are easy to calculate and typically have a verifiable dollar amount. In dental malpractice cases, some common examples of economic damages may include the following:
- Medical bills: This includes the costs of treatments, surgeries, medications, and rehabilitation for injuries or infections resulting from dental malpractice.
- Dental repair or reconstruction expenses: These are the fees associated with fixing or replacing damaged teeth, implants, or other dental work.
- Lost wages: Lost wages include income lost due to time taken off work for recovery, medical appointments, or dental procedures related to the malpractice.
- Lost earning capacity: This is a potential loss of income if the victim is unable to advance in his or her career due to the injuries.
- Costs of ongoing or long-term care: These are expenses for services such as physical therapy or occupational therapy that could be required due to the injuries.
- Out-of-pocket expenses: These are costs incurred by the victim for transportation to medical appointments, assistive devices, or other necessary items related to the malpractice injury.
Noneconomic damages are subjective and a bit more challenging to calculate. These damages typically involve the pain and suffering that patients experience, among other types of damages. Some of the more common types of noneconomic damages that are relevant to dental malpractice lawsuits include the following:
- Pain and suffering: This will typically include the physical discomfort and distress experienced due to the injuries or complications resulting from dental malpractice.
- Emotional distress: This includes things like anxiety, depression, fear, or other emotional issues stemming from the malpractice and its consequences.
- Loss of enjoyment of life: This includes the reduced ability to participate in or enjoy activities, hobbies, or social events due to the sustained injuries or complications.
- Disfigurement: Here, we’re talking about lasting visible changes to the victim's appearance, such as scars or facial asymmetry caused by the malpractice
- Loss of consortium: This seeks to compensate a person for the negative impact on the victim's relationships with their spouse or family members due to the injuries or complications.
Laws that Limit Damages in Dental Malpractice Cases
States like Florida have laws in place that cap or limit damages in dental malpractice cases. Thus, if you went to trial and won $10 million, it doesn’t matter because you are limited by the damage caps under the law. Additionally, there are other laws in Florida that limit damages when a defendant proposes voluntary arbitration. Rules like this make it very difficult for people who have suffered life-altering injuries to get justice in some states.
What is the Average Dental Malpractice Settlement Amount?
As we’ve talked about, dental malpractice settlements can vary significantly, depending on factors such as the nature of the case, the severity of the injury, and the jurisdiction. However, it is possible to determine an average settlement amount for dental malpractice cases in general based upon available data.
According to the Winter 2017 edition of AAID News, a magazine published by the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, the U.S. Justice Department found that the average award in a dental malpractice lawsuit was $68,000 at that time, not including legal fees. This figure offers a general bell curve that can help a victim understand what he or she might expect in terms of compensation.
However, it is essential to keep in mind that each dental malpractice case is unique, and the actual settlement amount may be higher or lower depending on the specific circumstances and a number of factors. Now, we’ve mentioned “factors” a lot in this article. So, let’s go over some of the more critical factors in determining the value of a given dental malpractice case:
- The severity of the victim’s injury: Obviously, more severe injuries typically result in higher settlement amounts, as they often require extensive medical treatment and may have a long-lasting impact on the victim's quality of life. The most common severe injury in dental malpractice is damage to the inferior alveolar and lingual nerve. Other severe injuries include serious infection, sepsis, and osteomyelitis.
- Economic damages suffered: If a victim has higher economic damages, the victim will generally be entitled to a higher settlement amount.
- Noneconomic damages suffered: The extent of noneconomic damages can significantly affect the settlement amount. This makes sense. A person who has suffered a lot should be entitled to more damages than a person who hasn’t, all things being equal.
- The egregiousness of the defendant dentist's negligence: If the dentist's negligence is particularly egregious, the settlement amount may be higher. In rare cases, this may include punitive damages, which are intended to punish a defendant and deter similar conduct in the future.
It's essential to remember that the average dental malpractice settlement amount serves as a guideline and does not guarantee a specific outcome in any given case. A case with a messed up filling is not the same as a case where a person suffers permanent nerve damage and won’t be able to speak well for the rest of their life.
Due to the complexity of dental malpractice cases, victims of dental malpractice should consult with an experienced dental malpractice lawyer to assess their case's unique aspects and seek the appropriate compensation for their injuries and losses. If you ever need anything, we’re here to help. Even if we aren’t licensed to practice in your state, we can possibly help to refer you to a reputable dental malpractice lawyer. We will help you however we can.