Dental malpractice lawsuits against dentists in Maryland are governed by the same rules applied to doctors and nurses. So claims against dentists, oral surgeons, endodontists, orthodontists prosthodontists, periodontists, and even dental hygienists are controlled by our medical malpractice laws.
In Maryland, this requires expert testimony before the lawsuit is filed addressing what the dentist should have done under the circumstances and what should have been done as not done. The plaintiff's expert, usually in the same field of dentistry as the defendant, must also testify that it is more likely than not that the dentist's negligence was the proximate cause of the harm that was done. This is done by way of a report before the suit is filed and by way of testimony in deposition and, if necessary, at trial.Dental Malpractice Injuries: What Kind of Cases Get Filed?
When dentists fail to give proper treatment, patients are exposed to the risk of a wide range of injuries including a fractured jaw, some systemic injury, nerve damage (a common leitmotif as you will see below), a stroke, meningitis, kidney malfunction, cancer (failure to diagnose) and, in some cases, even death.
These types of severe injury cases are ones that lead to dental malpractice lawsuits. Many patients have a hard time finding a lawyer. Most dental mistake cases involve what are, in relative terms in malpractice, minor injuries. These injuries include loss of a healthy tooth, an infection that puts a patient in the hospital temporarily, and mistaken placement of dental implants. These are awful things to happen but, unfortunately, often do not justify the expense of bringing a claim because of the enormous costs involved.
Our firm and most dental malpractice law firms front the expenses and costs in these cases and lose that money if the case is successful. Accordingly, we can only take very serious injury and wrongful death cases. The sad reality is that we get many calls describing malpractice, but we still cannot take the case because the injuries do not justify the expense. We tell you this because many people out there are frustrated that no one will take their case and they do not know why.
One type of case our firm is particularly focused on is when dentists take patients off anticoagulant medications like warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel (Plavix). The medical literature on this is clear: anticoagulant drug regimens should not be changed for a dental procedure except maybe in unusual circumstances. But too many dentists, often older dentists who do not follow the medical literature, do know that this is the standard of care and take their patients off this live saving medication, sometimes leading to disastrous results.How are Damages Determined?
In a dental malpractice lawsuit in Maryland, the patient can claim the past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering, subject to Maryland's malpractice cap.Dentists Virtually Never Confess in the Medical Records
Medical doctors, to their credit, have focused on trying to look at new ways to eliminate medical errors. They write journal articles and have conferences on common mistakes and how to avoid them.
Dentists do not. The profession is not as integrated as medical doctors. Most dentists are on an island figuring out to varying degrees of sophistication alone how to treat patients. This is not a fertile ground to understand why mistakes are being made and how to avoid them.
Similarly, dentists rarely leave obvious clues in the records. Why? Two main reasons. First, being on that island makes them feel like no one is watching them. There is no hospital administrator looking over their shoulder. Second, dental malpractice lawsuits in Maryland are rare in spite of that, let's be honest, dentists in the Baltimore-Washington area make a lot of mistakes that cause patients some injury. So dentists feel somewhat protected that there will be no claim unless they leave a clear paper trail.Dentists Will Often Overextend Themselves
There is less insurance coverage for dentistry that there is for other medical care. This often results in dentists having an economic interest in performing more procedures. So they overextend themselves. Too many dentists think they can do what a specialist should be doing. Advanced training makes a difference. A prosthodontist, for example, has two or more years of additional training than a general dentist. So if you need dental reconstruction, you would probably prefer to have a prosthodontist doing the work. But often a general dentist will think it is a task in their wheelhouse when it clearly is not. This often leads to malpractice.Sample Dental Malpractice Verdicts and Settlements in Maryland
Below is a list of Maryland dental malpractice cases that ended with a settlement or verdict. We believe they are illustrative on some level of the value of similar cases. That said, a result in one case clearly does not predict another. Why? There are so many variables at play that have differing weights. It is impossible to correctly distinguish why these cases might be worth more or less than a similar case.
Why so few cases? The reality is that not many dental malpractice cases are filed in Maryland. The ones that have merit usually settle. The cases that don't are often dismissed before trial. So there is not a large pool of cases to review.
With those caveats, here are a few Maryland cases:
- 2014, Maryland: Six Figure Settlement. This case involves an 81-year-old woman with a prior embolic stroke in 2008. The stroke originated from an embolus in her left atrium. Following the stroke, the patient had atrial fibrillation that was well-controlled with alternating doses of Coumadin, 5mg, and 2.5 mg. Between 2008 and August 2010, the patient was followed by her cardiologist and a Coumadin clinic. Her target INR was 2-3. Due to the nature of her prior embolic stroke, her cardiologist told her she must stay on Coumadin for the rest of her life. The patient had a CHADS score of 5-6, putting her at high risk of a future stroke. In the summer of 2010, the patient saw her dentist who recommended that three root tips be extracted. According to the dentist, this was a simple procedure that he could do in the office. He would simply pop the root tips out. Anything more complicated would be referred to an oral surgeon. The dentist told the patient to stop taking her Coumadin 5 days before the procedure. The dentist never contacted the patient’s cardiologist to check if this was safe. The patient complied with the dentist’s orders and stopped her Coumadin. At the time of her procedure, the patient was subtherapeutic with an INR of 1.0. Immediately following the procedure, the patient resumed her Coumadin. However, the next day the patient suffered a massive embolic stroke affecting her thalamus, the basal ganglion, midbrain, and pons. She was on life support for five days until she died. A wrongful death and survival action were brought in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. A six figure confidential settlement was obtained before trial.
- 2010, Maryland: 38,801 Verdict. A 45-year-old man seeks a full-mouth restoration while undergoing treatment for periodontal disease. Despite being told by one dentist that his gum disease treatment could not continue if he had a full-mouth restoration, another dentist said that it was not an issue. The man pursued the restoration, and the dentist put crowns on almost all of the man’s teeth. The man subsequently filed suit stating that the dentist improperly designed and installed the crowns, creating an uneven biting surface, resulting in the crowns having to constantly be replaced. He further alleged that he was unable to continue treatment for his gum disease, although he had been told differently. Lastly, he alleged the possibility of future jaw problems because of the untreated gum disease and improper restoration work. Defendant continued that the crowns were probably designed and installed and that he did not violate the standard of care. Defendant further disputed the extent of Plaintiff’s problems. It took a Baltimore County jury seven hours to find for the Plaintiff. $8,800 was awarded for past dental bills; $30,000 for future dental bills, and $1 in non-economic damages.
- 2005, Maryland: $398,665 Verdict. Plaintiff, a 45-year-old dental assistant, presents to her dentist for three dental implants. Two weeks after the procedure, she returns to the dentist with pain and burning at the site. She is referred to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and is diagnosed with an infection. He performs a surgical debridement. While treating her, she suffers a fractured mandible, and subsequently develops osteomyelitis and requires oxygen therapy in a hyperbaric chamber to treat the infection. She files suit alleging that the initial dentist drilled too deep and too close to the mandibular canal where the inferior alveolar nerve is located, causing permanent nerve damage. She sued the surgeon as well, alleging that he was too forceful in performing the surgical debridement, fracturing the mandible and making the infection worse. The dentist contends that he properly placed the dental implants and did not drill too deep. He alleged that her complaints were related to myofascial pain syndrome or TMJ. The surgeon maintained that he had not been too forceful and that the fracture may have occurred due to the loss of bone caused by the infection. A Baltimore County jury sided with the surgeon and returned a defense verdict, placing all the blame on the dentist. The Plaintiff was awarded $398,665. $8,665 for past medicals; $15,000 for future; and $375,000 for pain and suffering.
- 2004, Maryland: $250,000 Verdict. Plaintiff, a student, began orthodontic treatment with Defendant orthodontist in 1993. In October 1999, the orthodontist determined that the Plaintiff needed to have a tooth extracted and sent him to a dentist for the procedure. An x-ray is taken at the time of the extraction. In 2001, the plaintiff’s parents seek a second opinion regarding their son’s orthodontic treatment. They are told that he was suffering from severe root resorption and it is expected that he would require nine extractions of permanent teeth and permanent implants to replace those teeth. Plaintiff files suit alleging that had the orthodontist diagnosed the root resorption in a timely manner, it could have been treated and managed without permanent injury to his teeth and gums. Plaintiff further alleged that the orthodontist was negligent in not taking any x-rays himself in the six year period that the plaintiff was under his care. Defendant contended that the dentist who performed the extraction should have brought the x-rays to his attention or diagnosed the root resorption himself. A Montgomery County jury disagreed with the orthodontist and awarded the Plaintiff $140,000 in future medical expenses and $110,000 in pain and suffering.
If you or a loved one has been severely hurt or killed and you want fair compensation from a dental error, we can fight for your legal rights and put you in a position to win money damages. Call us at 410-779-4600 or get a free online consultation.
- Understanding the value of medical malpractice cases
- Take a look at a dental malpractice case filed in Howard County in 2016
- Take a look at another malpractice lawsuit, this one filed in Prince George's County after a nerve injury during a procedure to pull a wisdom tooth
- Nerve injuries are easily the most commonly filed malpractice lawsuits against a dentist. Here is a lawsuit filed in Rockville in August 2016 after a three-unit fixed bridge and another filed in Hagerstown.