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What are the time limits for bringing a dental negligence claim?

There are strict rules regarding the time limits you have to bring a dental negligence claim. Unfortunately, our dental negligence team regularly advises clients that whilst their case has strong merit, i.e. they have been afforded negligent dental treatment, they are ‘out of time’ to bring a claim for compensation.

How long do you have to bring a dental negligence claim?

The basic rule in any personal injury claim is that court proceedings must be issued within three years of the act of negligence, which has caused injury. Lawyers refer to this three year period as the ‘limitation period’.  In a dental negligence claim, this would mean that the three year limitation period would start from the date of the negligent dental work, which has subsequently caused harm.

However, there are important exceptions to this basic rule which mean that you may still be able to bring a claim for compensation even if the three year limitation period has elapsed.

Date of knowledge

A common occurrence in dental negligence claims is that the patient does not know that they have received poor dental treatment until many years later. A common claim that this scenario relates to is the failure to detect and treat periodontal disease (gum disease). This is a symptomless disease that should be monitored by your dentist but often it is not until many years later, when perhaps the patient is seen by a different dentist, that the patient is given a diagnosis (and told that they may lose a number of teeth to the disease). In cases like these, the three year limitation period runs from the patient’s “date of knowledge”. In this particular scenario, it is likely that the patient’s date of knowledge would be when they were given a diagnosis of periodontal disease.

Constructive knowledge

Unfortunately, like most things in law the situation does get more complex. Sometimes the court can judge that a claimant who did not have actual knowledge of negligence had constructive knowledge. That means essentially, that he ought to have known, or ought to have found out, that he had received negligent treatment. For example, a patient who had dentures fitted, but they had a poor fit and repeatedly broke over a period of a few years. In this example, a court may judge that after the dentures continued to have a poor fit etc., that a reasonable patient should sought a second opinion (which in turn would have given the patient actual knowledge).

Discretion to disapply the limitation period

Finally, in some circumstance it may be possible for the court to disapply the limitation period. The court will only do this in limited circumstances, and will take into account the reasons for the delay, the length of the delay, and how the delay has affected the evidence available in the case. The conduct of each of the parties, the claimant and the defendant dentist, will also be taken into account.

Summary

If you think that you have received poor dental treatment and are considering bringing a claim for compensation, it is important that you do consult a solicitor within three years of the dental treatment complained. In reality, the earlier you contact a solicitor the better, as it takes time to investigate the claim before being in a position to issue court proceedings. As explained above, calculation of limitation periods can get complex and therefore it is important that you contact a solicitor to seek advice on this. If you want to discuss your poor dental treatment to see whether you are able to bring a claim for compensation then please contact us

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