While the public may be more familiar with medical malpractice claims involving a hospital or physician, these types of claims are also available against other medical professionals who do not offer treatment with the requisite standard of care, including dentists. Dental injuries can be very painful, and often the damage may only be repaired by placing a crown on the tooth, a root canal, or even removing the tooth.
Dental malpractice claims require the same legal elements be proven as with other medical malpractice claims. The plaintiff will be required to show “(1) the proper standard of care for the defendant [dentist]; (2) an unskilled or negligent failure to comply with the appropriate standard; and (3) a resulting injury proximately caused by the physicians’ failure of skill or care.” Jinkins v. Evangelical Hospitals Corp., 336 Ill. App. 3d 377, 382 (1st Dist. 2002). Generally, expert testimony will be required to establish the applicable standard of care and a breach of that standard of care. The Illinois Supreme Court explained that because laypersons do not generally understand medical procedures or treatment, expert testimony is required to aid members of the jury, as well as the judge. Addison v. Wittenberg, 124 Ill.2d 287, 297 (1988). The only exceptions to this requirement occur when the treatment is very common or the act which causes the injury is “so grossly negligent” that members of the jury would be able to evaluate the conduct with their own knowledge and experiences. Id.
The courts also require that the plaintiff’s expert(s) meet certain qualifications. The court will look at factors such as whether the expert’s specialty is related to the medical problem; whether the expert spends a large portion of their time practicing medicine, teaching, or researching; whether the expert is licensed in the same profession as the defendant; and (in the case of a non-specialist) whether the expert is familiar with the standard of care practiced in the state. Rosenberg v. Miller, 247 Ill. App. 3d 1023, 1029 (2d Dist. 1993). Which of these factors matters most will depend on the facts of the given case. Because dentists are licensed by the states, different states may have different standards of care. Standards of care may also be different for certain specialties. Schindel v. Albany Medical Corp., 252 Ill. App. 3d 389, 396 (1st Dist. 1993)
It is important to have a dentist offer expert testimony in a dental malpractice claim. In Rosenberg v. Miller, the court allowed a dentist to testify as to the relevant standard of care in a malpractice claim against a periodonstist. Id. at 1031. The plaintiff’s theory was that the periodontist failed to properly read an x-ray. The court found that because reading an x-ray was part of general dentistry, and not solely part of the defendant’s periodontistry specialty, a general dentist was qualified to testify on the standard of care. Id. at 1030-31. Once a plaintiff proves a breach of that standard of care, an expert will still be needed to show that the defendant’s breach proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Jinkins, 336 Ill. App. 3d at 382. If the dentist breached the applicable standard of care, but no harm resulted to the plaintiff due to that breach, then there is no claim against the dentist. Expert testimony is necessary to tie the plaintiff’s injuries to the actions or inaction of the defendant dentist.
When you are injured, it is important to seek the advice of an experienced medical malpractice attorney. An experienced attorney will know experts who can analyze your case to determine whether or not you have a claim.