When a dentist damages a patient as a result of the dentist’s negligent actions or omissions, the patient may be able to sue for dental negligence under South Carolina medical malpractice law. Sections 15-79-110 through 130 of the South Carolina Code govern dental malpractice actions in South Carolina.
A dentist commits dental malpractice when he or she fails to meet the standard of care in providing dental services to a patient, which results in the patient’s injury or illness. Dental malpractice cases are governed by the same South Carolina procedural rules as South Carolina medical malpractice cases. In fact, dental malpractice cases are medical malpractice cases, except that they focus on dental work.
The Elements of Dental Negligence and Dental Malpractice in South Carolina
Just as in medical malpractice and personal injury cases, dental malpractice involves the 4 major elements of negligence that the plaintiff must prove:
- Duty: The dentist owed a duty to the patient (plaintiff or claimant was a patient of the defendant dentist);
- Breach: The dentist or dental staff must have provided care that fell short of the standard of care;
- Damage: The injury or harm caused must be compensable --- it must be measurable in some way, typically by assigning a dollar amount; and
- Causation: The failure to meet the standard of care must have caused an injury (physical harm, illness, or both).
What is Considered Dental Malpractice in South Carolina?
There are many ways a dentist may commit dental malpractice in South Carolina. Such examples of dental malpractice may stem from some of the following:
- Permanent damage to the inferior alveolar nerve or lingual nerve;
- Mini dental implants (may migrate into patient’s sinus cavity or into the inferior alveolar nerve canal);
- Root canal overfill;
- Perforation of tooth during root canal;
- Subcutaneous facial emphysema (SFE) due to using incorrect instruments during dental procedures;
- Failure to inform the patient about the risks and benefits of and alternatives to treatment;
- Infections and sepsis;
- Botched dental implant procedures resulting in serious injuries or permanent nerve injury;
- Osteomyelitis due to a fractured jaw during wisdom tooth extraction;
- Pulling the wrong tooth (don’t roll your eyes because this happens);
- Performing a procedure on the wrong tooth;
- Puncturing the sinus cavity during a procedure, typically during a tooth removal, sinus lift surgery, or implant placement;
- Failure to administer anesthesia, pain medications, or antibiotics when needed, or misuse of these medications;
- Failure to refer the patient to a specialist when needed (look for this in procedures that require immense skill and preparation, like implant placement, sinus lifts, root canals on back molars, or a difficult tooth removal); or
- Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose oral cancer or squamous cell carcinoma.
Common Injuries that Result from Dental Malpractice in South Carolina
Some errors that occur during dental procedures are easily corrected and don’t cause lingering pain, injury, or infection. On the other hand, some mistakes can cause serious and lasting injury. Common injuries that may occur as the result of dental malpractice include the following:
- Infections in the teeth, gums, lips, and other parts of the body (infection that enters the brain or bloodstream could result in wrongful death);
- Systemic toxicity or breathing problems caused by anesthesia errors;
- Permanent injuries to the nerves or muscles of the face, including those that control the lips, tongue, cheeks, and jaw;
- Heart attack or stroke as a result of treatment;
- Misdiagnosis or failed diagnosis of terminal conditions, such as cancer;
What is at Stake in a South Carolina Dental Malpractice Case?
Dental malpractice can carry grave financial and personal costs. The cost of past and future medical bills, corrective dental work, and lost wages can all put an intense strain on a person or family’s finances.
In addition, the pain and suffering caused by dental malpractice can be significant and traumatic, both for the injured patient and for his or her family. None of us are very happy, friendly, helpful, or romantic when we have severe tooth pain --- it’s one of the worse pains we can experience. Therefore, when a dental injury causes harms like these, the injured person or the person’s spouse may be able to seek compensation from the dentist or staff whose negligence or malpractice caused or contributed to the injury.
What is the Statute of Limitations for a Dental Malpractice Case in South Carolina?
The statute of limitations for dental malpractice in South Carolina is three (3) years from the date of the occurrence of the injury. However, if the patient doesn’t discover the injury until later, the 3-year time limit might begin running when the patient discovers the injury or reasonably should have discovered the injury, as opposed to when the injury actually occurred. Regardless of when the victim discovers the injury, the statute of limitations in South Carolina dental malpractice cases is cut off at six 6 years.
How Do You File a Dental Malpractice Claim in South Carolina?
Before your attorney can file the actual dental malpractice lawsuit in South Carolina, you or your attorney must first file a Notice of Intent to File Suit pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 15-79-125. This Notice must include certain information, which is detailed below.
- The Notice must include an affidavit of an expert witness (this is a sworn affidavit by an expert that essentially outlines the ways in which your dentist or the staff messed up and breached the standard of care);
- The Notice must name all adverse parties as defendants (the wrongdoer dentist and/or staff members whose actions harmed you);
- The Notice must contain a short statement of facts as to why the plaintiff is entitled to relief (this is where we talk about the who, what, when, where, how and why it happened);
- The Notice must be signed by the plaintiff or plaintiff’s attorney;
- The Notice must include standard interrogatories or similar disclosure required by the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure.
Filing the Notice tolls the statute of limitations. In other words, when you file your Notice, the statute of limitations clock temporarily stops running.
The Insurance Companies Have Spent Billions to Discourage Dental Malpractice Claims
Here’s the deal, insurance companies have spent countless dollars to promote the idea that dental and medical malpractice cases are bad for our country and for the healthcare system. These claims are meritless and misleading, albeit money well spent for the insurance companies.
Dental and medical malpractice cases act as a check and balance on doctors, nurses, and hospitals. Without this check and balance, we can all see how patient safety would become an afterthought, and more people would needlessly suffer. Whereas ancient societies made people pay for their mistakes with pain and flesh, our society makes wrongdoers pay with money. Money gets their attention, and money changes their behavior. Thankfully, dentists are typically required to carry some type of professional insurance coverage, and thus they are not usually personally liable for any settlement or verdict against them. Instead, their insurance company will typically pick up the tab.
Contact a South Carolina Dental Malpractice Lawyer for Your FREE Legal Consultation
That was the simple summary of South Carolina dental malpractice law. If you believe you have been the victim of dental malpractice, give us a call for a consultation with our South Carolina dental malpractice lawyer, Charles Buist. We can discuss your case, and we’ll figure out what to do. A call is no risk to you because we offer free legal consultations.
All you have to do to set up your free consultation is call us at (843) 638-6590, or you can set up your consultation over email by quickly filling out a contact form on our website.
We also have at least one lawyer licensed in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. So, if you need a Florida dental malpractice lawyer or a dental malpractice lawyer in any of the above states, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. You can call our Orlando, Florida personal injury law firm at (321) 352-7588.