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The Tooth About Your Dental Negligence Claim : Frequently Asked Questions

  • Sophie Webb addresses frequently asked questions when making a dental negligence claim.

    By Sophie Webb

As a Legal Assistant in our Dental Negligence team I act as a first point of contact for new clients who are considering bringing a dental negligence claim. In my experience, both prospective and current clients often have the same concerns when it comes to their potential dental negligence claim.

In this blog, I hope to address 4 questions that we are regularly asked at the outset, in the hope that this will allay any concerns you may have about your possible claim:

Who is the defendant in the case?

One of the first things our team will need to do is identify the correct defendant in your case.

Unlike hospital treatment where the defendant in the case is likely to be the NHS Trust responsible for your care (unless treatment was private), in dental negligence cases the defendant is likely to be the individual dentist himself as opposed to the dental practice as a whole.

Other dental professionals such as hygienists, orthodontists and dental nurses may have also been involved in your care and may also be liable in a claim for negligence.

Similarly, if the negligent treatment has occurred at a hospital, for example your dentist referred you for an extraction at a dental hospital and you have suffered negligent treatment there, the NHS Trust who runs that particular hospital may be the potential defendant.

If I win my case will the dentist have to pay?

All practicing dentists must have appropriate arrangements in place for patients to seek compensation if they suffer harm [1] – this normally comes in the form of professional indemnity insurance, but can also be through their membership of a Dental defence organisation.

It is often a concern of our clients that they will have to communicate with the dentist directly about their potential claim – do not panic! Once the dentist’s indemnity insurer has been notified of a potential claim, we will then correspond with them on your behalf. There is no direct involvement between the patient and the dentist.

If the claim is successful, the indemnity insurer will pay any compensation that has been agreed.

Should I stop my dental treatment whilst my case is on-going?

Many people worry about continuing their dental treatment whilst they have a case in negligence against their dentist, not least because they have lost their trust and confidence in the dental practitioner.

Continuing your treatment is a decision you should make – whilst we are your legal advisors, we cannot provide you with medical or dental advice.

However, it is important to bear in mind that your dentist owes you a continuous duty of care. This means that they cannot continue to provide you with substandard treatment with the knowledge that there is a potential case in negligence against them.

If you require on-going treatment whilst your dental negligence case is progressing, then you should follow the advice of your dental practitioner, whether that is the defendant dentist (if you feel this is best) or you choose to attend a different dentist.

It is also important to be realistic and understand that your case may take some time and may even be unsuccessful. Any delay in treatment whilst your case is on-going may not be in your best interests.

What can I claim for in my case?

In medical negligence, the aim of an award of compensation is to put you back in the position you would have been had the negligent treatment not occurred. Whilst it is impossible to take away the pain associated with the negligent dental treatment you have received, compensation can reimburse you for substandard treatment you have paid for and any restorative treatment you may now require as a result of your dentist’s negligence.

Generally, compensation is divided into 2 categories: general damages and special damages.

General damages compensate you for the pain and suffering you have suffered as a result of your dentist’s negligence. General damages will also include a claim for your inability to carry out day-to-day tasks as a result of the negligence; this is known as loss of amenity.

Special damages, also known as past pecuniary or financial loss, can also be claimed to recover those expenses you have reasonably incurred as a result of the dentist’s breach of duty. We would recommend that you keep any receipts or treatment plans that you have as evidence of the treatment you have received.

If you feel that you have received substandard dental treatment and this has caused you pain and suffering that you would not have otherwise suffered, then contact our Dental Negligence team. We will take a chronology of events and discuss your concerns with a view to providing you with advice as to your potential claim.

[1] General Dental Council, Standard 1.8 of Standards for the Dental Team.

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