In a significant dental malpractice case that has captured public attention, an 81-year-old woman from Beacon Falls, Maureen Scott, lost her life while undergoing dental procedures at Swan Lake Dental in Oxford, Connecticut on December 7, 2021. Scott's family has initiated a wrongful death legal action, requesting a jury trial to delve into the circumstances surrounding her untimely death.
The family contends that Scott, a former nurse, and great-grandmother, was at the dental facility to have four teeth removed and receive implants, commonly known as the “All-on-4” procedure. Tragically, she became unresponsive during the treatment. Emergency medical services were summoned, arriving quickly to the scene, but found Scott with no signs of life—no pulse, heart, or lung sounds were detected.
Chukym Alexis-Johnson, the dentist conducting the procedure, has denied the allegations made in the family’s 27-page legal document, which accuse him and his staff of negligence and careless conduct. The filing by the family includes statements suggesting that Scott’s vital signs were not properly monitored, and she was administered medications contraindicated for her known medical conditions.
The family’s attorney disclosed that preliminary examinations of the case indicate a string of critical errors contributing to Scott's death. One issue highlighted was the delayed recognition of Scott's deteriorating vital signs during the procedure. Photos taken during the operation also revealed abnormal blood flow in her mouth, a sign that allegedly should have warranted immediate attention.
The attorney also noted that the State Department of Public Health has been alerted about this incident and is currently conducting an inquiry. While the exact details are yet to be confirmed, the family has called for strict disciplinary action against those involved in the medical blunder, even questioning whether such a procedure should have been conducted outside of a surgical suite equipped with advanced monitoring technology.
A separate dental expert's anonymous review, mandated by state law, confirmed that Scott's death resulted from multiple deviations from standard medical care. Among these, the failure to consult Scott's primary care physician about her existing medical conditions and medication was pointed out. This expert warned of the risks of using nitrous oxide and Halcion, especially considering Scott’s respiratory issues and her use of similar medications like oxycontin and oxycodone.
Scott’s son, acting as the executor of her estate, is seeking an unspecified amount in damages. However, negotiations for a settlement will likely follow the family’s wrongful death claim, as death is a risky event to put in front of a jury and is not a “known complication” of dentistry, as the defense so often tries to claim.
The family’s attorney emphasized the importance of enhanced communication and emergency preparedness in dental settings, not just for the sake of the Scott family but to safeguard future patients as well.
Pursuing a Wrongful Death Case Based on Dental Malpractice
Dental procedures are generally considered safe, but what happens when they aren't? What if a simple trip to the dentist ends in an unthinkable tragedy: the loss of life? In such instances, the family of the deceased may have legal options.
Identifying Dental Malpractice
The first step in any wrongful death case is identifying dental malpractice. Dental malpractice occurs when a dentist, specialist, or some other dental healthcare provider fails to follow the standard of care, causing harm (or death) to the patient. Signs may include incorrect drug administration, insufficient monitoring during surgical procedures, or misdiagnosis.
Standard of Care
This refers to the level and type of care that a reasonably competent dental practitioner would provide in similar circumstances. The standard of care can vary depending on factors like the patient's age and medical history.
Once you suspect dental malpractice, the next step is to gather evidence to support your claim. This may include:
- Medical records detailing the procedure and drugs administered;
- Expert testimony from a qualified expert witness;
- Photographs or videos, if available, of the procedure or its aftermath.
A credible expert can make or break your case. This professional will assess whether the dental provider deviated from the standard of care, and if so, how that contributed to the wrongful death. The expert establishes the breach of duty, a critical element of negligence. Additionally, the expert works to establish causation, the link between the negligence and the damages suffered.
Filing the Lawsuit
After gathering sufficient evidence, you can proceed with filing the lawsuit. It is crucial to adhere to the statute of limitations, which varies by jurisdiction. Legal documents will describe the alleged malpractice and seek specific remedies, which can include compensation for funeral expenses, loss of consortium, and emotional distress.
Given the complexities involved, it is strongly recommended to seek experienced legal counsel. An attorney that handles wrongful death cases involving dental malpractice can guide you through the legal maze.
Be prepared for possible defenses from the other side. Common defenses in dental malpractice cases include:
- The doctor or dental office obtained the patient’s consent (NOTE: You can’t consent to dental malpractice in many states).
- The adverse outcome was an unavoidable complication.
- The dentist's actions were consistent with the standard of care.