Lingual nerve damage can be a severe and life-altering consequence of dental malpractice, and it can cause pain, numbness, and loss of taste, among other serious problems. People who have suffered from such injuries may have a viable claim for dental malpractice. In this article, we’re going to discuss the factors that can influence the settlement or compensation amounts when someone brings a claim for dental negligence after suffering serious lingual nerve damage.
Factors Influencing Compensation Amounts for a Lingual Nerve Injury Lawsuit
There are many factors can impact the amount of compensation awarded in lingual nerve damage cases. This is especially true when we’re considering noneconomic damages, like loss of enjoyment of life and pain and suffering. Below are some critical factors in determining the value of a lingual nerve injury case.
- Severity of the Injury: As in any personal injury case, more severe injuries typically result in higher compensation amounts.
- Impact on Daily Life: The extent to which the injury affects the victim's ability to work, communicate, or enjoy everyday activities can influence the case’s value.
- Age and Health of the Victim: Younger victims and those in good health prior to the injury may be eligible for more monetary compensation because they are likely to experience the impacts of the injury for a much longer time.
- Jurisdiction: Compensation amounts may vary depending on the jurisdiction in which the claim is filed because different states and venues have different laws and regulations.
Types of Damages Available to People Who Have Suffered a Permanent Lingual Nerve Injury as a Result of Dental Malpractice
When an individual suffers a permanent lingual nerve injury due to dental malpractice, they may be entitled to various types of damages. These damages aim to compensate the victim for their losses and help them return to the same financial state they were in before the injury occurred. The following types of damages may be available to those who have experienced such an injury:
- Medical Expenses: This category of damages covers the costs associated with treating the lingual nerve injury, including surgery (microneurosurgery), medications, and even physical therapy.
- Lost Wages: If the lingual nerve injury has caused the victim to miss work or has impaired their ability to work in the future, they may be entitled to damages for lost wages. This form of compensation seeks to make up for the income the victim has lost and will lose as a result of their injury.
- Pain and Suffering: Victims of dental malpractice may receive damages for the physical pain and emotional distress caused by their lingual nerve injury. This compensation recognizes the noneconomic impact of the injury, such as the inability to taste food and drinks, difficulty speaking, or discomfort experienced due to numbness or tingling sensations from neuropathic conditions like anesthesia dolorosa or trigeminal neuralgia.
- Loss of Consortium: If the lingual nerve injury has negatively impacted the victim's relationship with their spouse or partner, they may be entitled to damages for loss of consortium. This compensation aims to address the loss of companionship, affection, and intimacy that can result from a serious injury.
- Disfigurement: If the lingual nerve injury has resulted in visible scarring or other forms of disfigurement, the victim may be entitled to compensation for the physical and psychological impact of these changes to their appearance.
- Loss of Enjoyment of Life: Lingual nerve injuries can have a significant impact on a person's overall quality of life. A person may be awarded damages for the loss of enjoyment of life, which can include the inability to participate in hobbies, social activities, or other experiences that were once enjoyed before the injury occurred.
- Disability: In cases where the lingual nerve injury leads to a long-term or permanent disability, the victim may be eligible for damages to address the resulting limitations and challenges.
- Loss of Future Earning Capacity: If the lingual nerve injury has impaired the victim's ability to work or advance in their career, they may be entitled to damages for loss of future earning capacity. This compensation looks at the difference between the victim's projected earnings before the lingual nerve injury and their diminished earning potential as a result of the injury. For example, imagine if a news anchor or a motivational speaker suffered a lingual nerve injury. This impairment could drastically affect that person’s future earning capacity.
Damages Caps in Florida Dental Malpractice Cases and Offer to Arbitrate
In Florida, there are specific limitations on the amount of noneconomic damages that a claimant can get in dental malpractice cases. These limitations are set forth in Florida Statutes Section 766.118.
According to the statute, the following limitations apply to dental malpractice cases:
- For dental malpractice cases, noneconomic damages cannot exceed $500,000 per claimant.
- If the negligence resulted in a permanent vegetative state or death, the total noneconomic damages recoverable from all practitioners can’t exceed $1 million.
- For medical negligence of nonpractitioner defendants, noneconomic damages cannot exceed $750,000 per claimant.
- If the negligence resulted in a permanent vegetative state or death, the total noneconomic damages recoverable from all nonpractitioner defendants cannot exceed $1.5 million.
In addition to the overall statutory caps on damages, an offer to arbitrate can also cap damages in dental malpractice cases in Florida. If both parties agree to arbitration, the defendant is generally only liable for up to $250,000 in noneconomic damages. If the claimant refuses, the noneconomic damages may not to exceed $350,000 per incident. This cap is in addition to any limits imposed by Florida Statute 766.118.
It is essential to note that these limitations apply to noneconomic damages only and do not affect economic damages, such as medical expenses. However, these caps greatly reduce the money available to a person bringing a dental malpractice claim. If a jury award exceeds the statutory caps, the award will be reduced. In other words, a claimant cannot get more money than the statutes in Florida allow.
Specific Examples of Lingual Nerve Injury Cases and the Settlement and Verdict Amounts
Now, let’s explore some specific examples of lingual nerve injury cases pulled from a public database. By analyzing these cases, we can provide you with a better understanding of the value of lingual nerve injury cases.
Stevens v. Lovell (1989)
On June 11, 1987, the plaintiff underwent a dental operation performed by the defendant in Tampa to remove four wisdom teeth. During the procedure, the defendant transected the lingual nerve and failed to detect the transection. Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant did not advise them of the potential risks of the procedure, did not provide proper follow-up care, and spent too much time performing the surgery.
The defendant cited comparative negligence or negligence caused by a third person, collateral set-off, and that the plaintiff failed to satisfy pre-litigation notice requirements of F.S.768.57 as affirmative defenses. At the pre-trial conference, the defendant added that the plaintiff failed to mitigate their damages because they did not follow the defendant doctor's instructions.
The jury awarded the plaintiff $47,177 in damages (verdict). After accounting for collateral sources and costs, the final amount received by the plaintiff was $44,104.49. The damages awarded included $7,177 for past medical expenses, $10,000 for past pain and suffering, and $30,000 for future pain and suffering.
Pietragall v. Stevens (1993)
The plaintiff was referred to Dr. Stevens and his professional association for an evaluation for the extraction of her four wisdom teeth. On June 28, 1989, she underwent the extractions. Following the procedure, the plaintiff complained of loss of sensation and taste on the left side of her tongue, as well as a painful sensation in her left gum line and near the posterior portion of her tongue.
The plaintiff was awarded $64,000 in damages, broken down as follows:
- $1,000 for past medical expenses
- $18,000 for future medical expenses (over 54 years)
- $10,000 for past pain and suffering
- $35,000 for future pain and suffering
Jarmakowicz v. Freilich (2005)
On July 25, 2000, Mr. Jarmakowicz, a 16-year-old patient, had four impacted wisdom teeth extracted by Dr. Freilich, a West Palm Beach oral surgeon. Jarmakowicz alleged that Freilich's use of a drill during the procedure caused a cut to his lingual nerve, resulting in permanent numbness and loss of taste on the right side of his mouth. Jarmakowicz sued Freilich for dental malpractice and his professional association on a theory of vicarious liability. The plaintiff's counsel argued that Freilich's surgical technique was negligent and that he failed to timely refer Jarmakowicz for microsurgical nerve repair.
The defense countered that nerve damage is a known risk of surgical extraction, and there is no standard of care for referral to a specialist for nerve repair. The defense also questioned the severity of Jarmakowicz's injuries and argued that the injury could have been caused by a bone fragment from a fractured lingual plate, not the drill.
This case went to trial, and Jarmakowicz claimed permanent lingual nerve damage and sought compensation in excess of $250,000 for past and future pain and suffering. He reported a lack of feeling on the right side of his tongue, lower right gums, and right side of his mouth, as well as impaired taste and occasional speech problems. The defense disputed the extent of his injuries and argued that his condition was not as severe as he claimed. They noted that Jarmakowicz was able to speak well and had no significant speech deficit.
Hughes v. Scherb (1997)
In this case, the doctor transected the lingual nerve of a 36-year-old woman during a wisdom tooth extraction. The nerve damage caused the patient permanent numbness and taste alteration.
This case settled for $140,000 in January of 1997.
Fleming v. Torres (1999)
This case revolves around the alleged negligent technique used by a dental professional during the extraction of the plaintiff's wisdom tooth, resulting in lingual nerve damage. The plaintiff claimed that the dentist's improper approach caused the injury, leading to ongoing complications and discomfort.
The court examined the case, taking into consideration the arguments made by both the plaintiff and the dental professional. After considering the evidence presented, the court found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded them $179,000 in damages.
The damages awarded in this case aimed to compensate the plaintiff for the physical and emotional distress caused by the lingual nerve damage, as well as the financial burden incurred due to the additional medical treatment required as a result of the injury. The awarded sum of $179,000 took into account the plaintiff's pain and suffering, medical expenses, and other losses caused by the negligent technique the doctor used during the extraction of the plaintiff’s wisdom tooth.
Wilkins v. Gesek (2015)
In August 2011, Mr. Wilkins visited Dr. Gesek for the removal of his wisdom teeth. Wilkins claimed that Dr. Gesek deviated from the standard of care during the surgery, causing penetration of the lingual cortex and transection of his left lingual nerve while extracting wisdom tooth #17 (bottom left wisdom tooth). As a result, Wilkins experienced numbness and loss of taste on the left side of his tongue.
Wilkins filed his dental malpractice lawsuit in January 2013, seeking compensation for additional medical expenses and pain associated with the nerve damage. The defendants argued that lingual nerve damage is a known risk of wisdom tooth removal and that there was no evidence that the dental drill had caused the nerve transection as alleged. The plaintiff relied on a pathology report that documented boney material found on the severed end of the lingual nerve. The plaintiff's expert testified that this occurrence could only have happened if the drill had penetrated the jawbone.
The jury returned a verdict of $633,757 for the Plaintiff, broken down as follows:
- $33,757 for past medical expenses
- $100,000 for past pain and suffering
- $500,000 for future pain and suffering
In Florida, the laws permit a plaintiff from receiving more than the damages cap, which is $500,000 for noneconomic damages like pain and suffering. Thus, the awarded damages in this case exceeded Florida's $500,000 legislative cap on non-economic damages (the max amount of money a plaintiff can receive) in medical malpractice cases. As a result, the case was settled post-trial for an undisclosed amount that was less than the jury awarded.
Stolte v. Fagan (2014)
Back in 2005, Ms. Stolte, a 28-year-old woman, visited Dr. Fagan's dental practice for the removal of her lower left wisdom tooth. During the procedure carried out by Dr. Fagan, Stolte's lingual nerve was accidentally severed, leading to severe and ongoing pain. Unfortunately, multiple attempts to repair the nerve damage were unsuccessful.
Stolte filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Fagan and his practice, arguing that the extraction method used was overly invasive and not recognized by the medical community. Expert witnesses in the case testified that Fagan's invasive approach affected a common location of the lingual nerve, causing it to be severed. Fagan, however, denied any wrongdoing, maintaining that the technique he employed was taught to him by Dr. Ed Joy, who he believed was the former head of the oral surgery department at the Medical College of Georgia and deceased at the time.
During the trial, Stolte's attorney discovered that Dr. Joy was alive and presented him as a rebuttal witness. Dr. Joy testified that he, along with other instructors at the Medical College of Georgia, would not have taught Fagan the surgical method used on Stolte, adding that he was responsible for establishing the curriculum for all instructors at the time Fagan was a student.
Initially, the case was tried in 2009, resulting in a verdict favoring the defendant, but the verdict was later set aside on appeal and sent back for a new trial.
As a result of the severed lingual nerve during her wisdom tooth extraction, Stolte experienced the loss of taste and sensation in her tongue. She underwent three surgeries in an attempt to repair the nerve or alleviate her symptoms, but she continued to suffer from numbness, shocking sensations, chronic jaw pain, tongue pain, and other issues.
Stolte sought $500,000 in lost wages, claiming that her injury hindered her ability to speak, preventing her from performing her job as an insurance underwriter. She also requested $781,000 for past and future medical expenses and damages for pain and suffering. In addition, Stolte's husband, Scott Ross, filed a claim for loss of consortium and services.
The parties ultimately settled the suit for $875,000, four hours after the jurors announced they had entered a verdict on liability.
Kvernhaugen v. Russo (2019)
On January 31, 2016, 34-year-old Ms. Kvernhaugen underwent a wisdom tooth extraction performed by Dr. Russo, an oral maxillofacial surgeon. During the procedure, Kvernhaugen sustained an injury, which she claimed was due to Russo's negligence. She alleged that Russo drilled through the lingual plate and severed the left lingual nerve, resulting in permanent numbness, loss of taste on the left side of her tongue, and shooting pain.
Kvernhaugen filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Russo in the Circuit Court of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, in and for Broward County, Florida, on March 28, 2017. She asserted that her attempt to have the nerve injury repaired was unsuccessful, which led to her ongoing issues.
On February 15, 2019, Judge Rodriguez presided over the case, and a jury rendered a verdict in favor of Kvernhaugen, awarding her $1,751,000 in damages.
The jury awarded Kvernhaugen a total of $1,751,000 in damages, broken down as follows:
- $51,000 for past medical expenses
- $200,000 for future medical expenses
- $250,000 for past non-economic damages
- $1,250,000 for future non-economic damages
These damages were meant to cover the costs associated with her medical treatment, ongoing care, and the pain and suffering she experienced as a result of the alleged malpractice during her wisdom tooth extraction. However, the verdict exceeded Florida’s cap on noneconomic damages, and thus the amount the plaintiff ultimately received was significantly reduced.