According to the Medical Practitioners Act of 2007, dentists in Ireland are categorised as medical practitioners, and as such have the same duty of care to their patients as GPs, surgeons, or those more commonly thought of as medical professionals. The patient expects that the dentist will carry out the correct procedures in a satisfactory manner, and that they will receive an adequate amount of patient care. In Ireland, nearly all medical procedures are carried out in such a satisfactory manner. However, if you have sustained an injury as a consequence of dental treatment you have received, or if you’ve had dental issues left undiagnosed even after seeking treatment, this may constitute as an act of dentist negligence. You may be entitled to make a dental negligence compensation claim.
Examples of What Constitutes as Dentist Negligence
Dentist negligence covers a wide variety of ways in which sub-par treatment of a patient by a dentist can cause the patient suffering. These include harm caused to their patients by:
- failing to diagnose or treat infections, oral cancers and cysts
- the misapplication of analgesics, anaesthetics, antibiotics and sedatives
- showing a lack of skill (or failing to apply their skills) with drills, syringes or any of their other instruments
- inviting that a certain procedure be complete when it is not necessary, expensive, and potentially harmful
More In-Depth Examples:
Misdiagnosis of a Disease:
The misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose a certain condition in a patient may result in the worsening in an underlying condition, which in certain cases (such as oral cancer) may need to grave consequences for the patients. More usually, it results in prolonged pain and suffering by the patient, as the dentist fails to treat them the adequate care or attention.
Inadequate treatment of a Disease:
To make a claim for compensation for inadequate treatment of a condition by a dentist, it must be shown that the same treatment would not have been provided to the patient had a different, reasonable and competent dentist been in charge of patient care. Inadequate treatment of a disease can happen on one occasion, or happen multiple times over a long period.
Injury or Damage:
In the case of personal injury, the plaintiff must have sustained some form of injury, be it physical or psychological, as a consequence of dental negligence. Often, in the case of psychological trauma, the solicitor or barrister representing the victim will make reference to the traumatic nature of the incident in negotiations or at a court trial, in order for the case to be seen more favourably. It is important to note that the patient must have sustained an injury in order to claim compensation; a “near miss” is not a justifiable reason to seek compensation.
Careless Dental Treatment:
This type of claim can be made in a wide variety of situations, and often pertains to relatively minor damages; for example, if a dentist cuts a patient’s lip or gum during treatment. However, carelessness can also occur on more serious procedures, such as a dentist extracting the incorrect tooth in error during a procedure.
There are many more reasons why people are eligible to make claims for dental negligence compensation. If you are unsure what constitutes dental negligence and whether an error has caused a health problem serious enough to warrant a claim for medical negligence compensation, you should seek legal advice immediately.
Making Dental Negligence Claims in Ireland
The Statute of Limitations for dental negligence claims is the same as that for medical negligence claims; two years after the “date of knowledge”. This is the date on which the injury was sustained. It is therefore important that a patient seeks legal advice as soon as possible after the injury has been sustained, even if they are unsure if they have a case for receiving compensation.
Making a claim for dental negligence in Ireland is a complicated process. Due to the complex nature of such cases, the Injuries Board in Ireland will decline to assess any medical negligence claims submitted to them. Therefore, it is your solicitor’s responsibility to produce the strongest possible case on your behalf, provided that they believe you have a claim for medical negligence compensation which is worthwhile to pursue. Your solicitor will request details about the treatment which you received, and have them reviewed by independent experts in the field of the treatment you underwent. As this is happening, an investigation should also be underway at the dental clinic at which you received the negligent treatment. If there is no response to your claim within a reasonable amount of time, it is possible to request a Health Service Executive review into the incident.
It is the responsibility of the solicitor to present a “Letter of Claim”, which presents the case directly to the negligent dentist, or their insurers. If sufficient evidence of negligence is presented to them, the insurance company may make an offer to settle your claim immediately. This usually occurs if it can be shown that “at the time and in the circumstances”, a competent dentist would have followed a different course of action and therefore the injury would have been avoided. The amount of compensation will be negotiated between the two legal teams involved in the case.
Frequently, no appropriate offer of settlement for the dental negligence claim is received. This may be due to your dental negligence compensation claim is contested by the defendants. In these circumstances, your solicitor will then issue court proceedings. This is often used as an incentive for the state or private medical insurers need to agree to a more appropriate settlement, and does not necessarily mean that a full court proceeding will be necessary. It is common that a settlement of your claim will be negotiated before a court appearance is necessary. Most solicitors will only go to court as a last resort, if the defendants refuse to accept liability or no reasonable offer of compensation is made.
There are other types of claim which can be made-such as claiming for an injury caused by a faulty medical device-which require different channels to be followed. Always consult your solicitor as to what is the best course of action considering your injury and personal circumstances.
Amount of Compensation for Medical Negligence in Ireland
There are a number of factors which will normally influence the value of the plaintiff’s claim. One of the most important of these is the way in which liability is split between the two parties involved.
The cause of an accident or injury to a patient is often unclear. It may be obvious in some situations that the dentist is to blame, such as in the case of showing inadequate care in treatment or if they incorrectly perform a procedure. In other cases, several, factors may have contributed to the injury that has been sustained by the patient.
Contributory negligence is the legal principle that an injured party i.e. the claimant may have contributed to his or her own injury by acting in a manner that was negligent when faced with the obvious and known conditions. This “contributory negligence” may be as a result of you ineffectively communicating the symptoms of your illness to the dentist, or failing to inform them of any pre-existing conditions. Therefore, it is possible that their own lack of care exacerbated their own suffering, and had the dentist been fully aware of the health of their patient, they may have chosen a different course of action.
The negligence of the defendant (or defendants) and the complainant are compared. The liability may be split between them, or attributed entirely to the defendant. In some cases, the extent of contributory negligence may defeat the plaintiff’s case (i.e. the claim will be unsuccessful). In the cases in which the patient is found to be negligent, there will be an appropriate amount deducted from their compensation due to their own lack of care.
Other factors contribute to the compensation that the injured party is entitled to receive. This includes consideration for current and future pain and suffering, emotional trauma, and compensation for loss of earnings while injured.
Medical Negligence Claims for Children
If your child has suffered a dental injury due to a lack of care by a dentist, they are not allowed to claim for dental negligence in Ireland until they reach the age of eighteen. Despite the Statute of Limitations (the two-year limit on making medical negligence claims) not beginning until the child reaches this age, meaning that they themselves could make a claim for a childhood injury, sufficient evidence may be difficult to obtain if the incident was many years prior. It is advised that parents should make a dentist negligence compensation claim on behalf of their child acting as a “next friend”.
If a claim is made on behalf of a child, it cannot be settled in its entirety without making its way through the courts. The process of making a claim is similar to that outlined above, but the compensation must be approved by a judge to ensure that it is in the child’s best interests.
Once approved, the funds from the compensation settlement will be paid into court accounts, where they will remain in an interest-yielding account until the child reaches eighteen years of age and can access the funds themselves. By application to the court, it is possible for a parent to access these funds if they are needed to cover medical or health expenses.
Each case of dental negligence is unique. So even if two people have suffered the same injury due to negligence, the only component of a compensation settlement that is likely to be comparable is the compensation for your pain and suffering. The other components of compensation for dental negligence in Ireland can vary significantly. You should discuss the circumstances of your injury directly with an experienced solicitor.
Our solicitor will assess your case with care, advise you whether you have a compensation claim which is worth your while to pursue and answer any questions you may have regarding dental negligence claims against an individual practitioner or claims for dental negligence in Ireland.