Undiagnosed Disease Leads To Dental Negligence Claim
The Law Of… claiming for dental negligence
When a patient who'd complained of dental issues for some time was told that a number of her teeth had come loose, she was understandably upset.
When it was revealed she was suffering with severe periodontal disease, she approached Simpson Millar to pursue a possible dental negligence claim. Sarah Chambers, the Medical Negligence Solicitor who handled the case, details how the legal claim unfolded.
A Claim Of Dental Negligence
Amanda Cronin had regularly complained about toothache and bleeding gums. The dental practice, with which she had been a patient since 2000, remaining under the care of the same practitioner, dismissed her concerns, telling her that all was well and there was no need to worry.
In May 2014 it was discovered that a number of Mrs Cronin's teeth had come loose and her dentist referred her to the practice's hygienist for a deep clean, where she was subsequently diagnosed with severe periodontal disease. Naturally disappointed that the condition had gone both undiagnosed and untreated, despite her regular appointments with the same healthcare professional for the previous 14 years, Mrs Cronin contacted Simpson Millar to see if she had grounds for a dental negligence claim.
An initial approach to the dental practice concerned immediately resulted in an offer of a £10,000 settlement, but without an admission of any negligence having occurred.
As there was yet no independent medical evidence to further substantiate Mrs Cronin's claim, she was advised not to accept what seemed, on the surface, to a be an unreasonable offer, for risk of under-settling.
A periodontal expert was subsequently located and instructed to provide advice on:
- Whether the delay in diagnosis had caused any damage that could have been prevented by treatment at an earlier stage
- Mrs Cronin's current dental condition and future prognosis
- The recommended treatment to manage the disease and the associated financial costs
Following the examination, the doctor's report proved to be both an insightful and beneficial read.
Breach Of Duty
It confirmed that the dental practice would have been aware of the periodontal disease as early as 2005, with the failure to inform her about the condition and its implications, as well as provide effective treatment, amounting to a breach of duty.
The doctor's review went on to state that this breach of duty had resulted in Mrs Cronin requiring extensive treatment to remedy the progressive loss of periodontal detachment, along with invasive surgery to replace what would most likely be 6 teeth.
What Is Breach Of Duty?
Healthcare professionals have a duty of care to their patients. This duty is breached when a dental practitioner, doctor, nurse etc. fails to perform to the standard required of their profession.
This standard is defined as the measures a reasonably skilled and competent medical professional of a similar level and background takes to reduce the risk of harm to a patient.
If it can be proved that the healthcare professional had a duty of care and that the failure to carry it out to a reasonable standard resulted in injury, there are strong grounds for a personal injury claim due to medical negligence.
The Offer Is Doubled
The report also stated that although Mrs Cronin's condition was inevitable, its severity could have been reduced if diagnosed and treated at an earlier stage.
It then set out the physical and financial costs to the client, which, on the balance of probabilities, would have been avoidable if not for the negligence:
- Specialist periodontal treatment for the remainder of Mrs Cronin's life
- Loss of 6 teeth
- Dental implants and crowns requiring replacement at 15 year intervals
With the report showing that the initial offer of £10,000 was not a reasonable one for this particular case, a schedule of loss – a document setting out how much the claimant wants to be awarded based on the future costs of treatment – was prepared, which was then agreed by Mrs Cronin.
It took 3 months for the Defendant to respond with an offer of £20,000 in full and final settlement of the claim. Although this was not unreasonable, it was at the lower end of the value bracket that Simpson Millar had allowed for this matter and following further instruction from Mrs Cronin, negotiations were reopened, with the purpose of securing her a preferable settlement.
What Happens When An Offer Of Settlement Is Made?
When an offer of a settlement is made by a Defendant, the decision of whether to accept or reject it is based upon whether there is a reasonable prospect of beating it should the case go to trial.
In this instance, the fact the dental practice was still refusing to admit liability suggested it might have evidence refuting the amount of treatment the claim alleged was required. Should a Judge accept the Defendant's evidence, it could greatly reduce the amount that was awarded to Mrs Cronin.
A Settlement Is Agreed
Sarah Chambers' negotiations proved successful, with the Defendant eventually agreeing to settle the claim for £25,000 – a 150% increase on the initial offer.
Mrs Cronin accepted, hoping that the settlement would ensure a similar mistake wasn't made again, going on to say:
"Simpson Millar provided an excellent professional service. Sarah Chambers, in particular, must be a highly valued member of the team, as she was very professional, friendly and supportive."
"Hopefully my case can help raise awareness for others in the same situation, as it shows that the medical profession doesn't always know – or do – best. It often pays to trust your own instinct."