What shall I do to bring my dentist to a small court for his negligence, and for how much?
June 21, 2007 8:19 PM   Subscribe

What shall I do to bring my dentist to a small court for his negligence, and for how much?

I got a chemical burn to my face, about the size of a quarter, due to the negligence of my dentist. To make the long story short, it started two days ago when I went to have some filling work done for my teeth. The dentist accidentally mixed the water with the filling composite and smeared it onto my face. This triggered a rapid reaction with my skin. I was told at the time that I was probably allergic to the metal used for the high pressure tool piece. I did not buy his explanation and went to see my own doctor immediately. The next day I found out from the dentist that it was possibly an etch or acid burn by the composite. Today my own doctor confirmed me that it was indeed a chemical burn.

The burnt area is now dried up and is turning into a big dark scab. The burning sensation is going away, but the discomfort, as my doctor told me, will last for at least two weeks, not to mention that I have to show up like that at work everyday. According to my doctor, it’s unlikely to have scars afterwards in this case, but I’m still traumatized and scared to death with what if’s.

I’m furious that the dentist failed sending me to a medical clinic for immediate treatment upon my request. The funny part (not so funny) is that he treated me with Vaseline and recommended me to take Tylenol to ease the pain when this happened. I have been taking pictures of the burnt area everyday. I save all the notes from my doctor, visit receipts, and prescription. I want to see him at a small court, and want him to be responsible for his malpractice and negligence, and to cover all my medial expenses plus discomfort as the result. Shall I get a lawyer to represent me at this time or shall I settle this with the dentist by my own efforts first? If latter, what should I do first, and how much is reasonable to compensate my suffering, yet big enough for him to learn this lesson? Your inputs are greatly appreciated.
posted by dy to Law & Government (17 answers total)
Lawyer up. You could easily fuck up your claim against him by aproaching him personally in the wrong way.
posted by unSane at 8:21 PM on June 21, 2007

You sound pissed, and justifiably so -- too pissed to negotiate effectively on your own behalf. Seconding the advice to get a lawyer.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:23 PM on June 21, 2007

Well, first of all, in small claims court you are limited to only your damages -- which don't include any "lessons" or "pain and suffering"...

Bascially, you know not of which you speak at this point, and really should lawyer up if you want to do something serious here.
posted by SpecialK at 8:25 PM on June 21, 2007

It sounds like your dentist made an honest mistake. Every body does. It also sounds like he recognizes he made a mistake that deeply affects you. I suggest you call him and tell him you will be submitting your expenses for reimbursement. He may just say ok.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:25 PM on June 21, 2007

Ya, this sounds yucky, but this kind of thing happens. It's not like your dentist removed the wrong tooth or left a rotting tooth in your mouth, etc.

I'd urge you to reconsider.

If you're dead set on pursuing a legal course of action - get a lawyer.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:47 PM on June 21, 2007

He made a mistake. I would be pissed too, but I'm not sure you're going to get any satisfaction out of going the legal round. I think what you probably really want is some sort of restitution. Follow JohnnyGunn's advice and then go from there.
posted by allthewhile at 9:09 PM on June 21, 2007

There are no "honest mistakes" in medical and dental care. It is your body and you are putting your life in their hands and paying them thousands of dollars.

If you have a friend or a family member who is a lawyer, contact them first and ask them for the name of a top med mal lawyer.

I am not your lawyer and this does not constitute legal advice.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:21 PM on June 21, 2007

lawyer up man, there's tons of lawyers out there that will gobble this up...just randomly open the yellow pages or watch some late night television

or you could pick up the phone and go tarbash on him
posted by Salvatorparadise at 9:41 PM on June 21, 2007

I appreciated opinions and thoughts from both sides. I agree that this is a mistake by accident. However, It's very irresponsible and unprofessional of him to brush me off with Vaseline and Tylenol. He saw my skin came off when I was wiping my mouth with a cleanex. If I didn't go to my doctor for the immediate treatment, the infection could have got worse.
posted by dy at 10:38 PM on June 21, 2007

Dentists have a peer review process for bad behavior.
Google peer review your county dental society
and you can find them. Call them.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:03 PM on June 21, 2007

Try to settle this on your own first, if you want, but DO NOT sign anything. See what they'll offer you, then take that to a lawyer, explain the situation, and ask for a range of how much he or she thinks your case is worth. Lawyers take 25 to 40 percent of what you are paid out, so bear that in mind as far as how much extra money a lawyer has to bring in for you to make it worth it (and it probably IS worth it.)

And sorry this happened to you. It sucks.
posted by Happydaz at 12:30 AM on June 22, 2007

just a quick note: make sure you get pictures of your face.
posted by lester at 5:30 AM on June 22, 2007

It sounds like you're not going to be scarred. I understand that a couple weeks of discomfort sucks, but lawyering up? Why not be the bigger person, let the dentist reimburse you for your expenses and be done with it?

Unless you want to pursue this just to spite him? That I'd understand.
posted by JaredSeth at 5:55 AM on June 22, 2007

I don't have advice for suing beyond what people have already offered, but I can say that if you're worried about a scar (particularly given it's on your face!) you could try to get in to see a dermatologist ASAP.

As someone who had minor surgery on her face recently, I can share what my plastic surgeon recommended for scar minimization:

1. Keep the area well-hydrated with lotion (any lotion will do, but stay away from Vitamin E). I think his exact words were "develop a nervous tic of rubbing lotion into it 3-4 times a day." This helps keep the scar soft.

2. Become fanatic about keeping all sunlight away from it and wearing SPF everytime you're doing anything where sunlight is present. Be aware that you can get enough sunlight just driving to work to cause the scar to darken. If you're going to be outside all day, suck it up and put a bandage over it.

I know you're probably really overwhelmed with anger and frustration right now--heck, I was angry at the *%(#$ cancerous mole for making me get my face all cut up--and taking proactive steps to minimize the effect on my appearance made a huge difference in helping me feel in control and less angry. So much of our self-image is tied up in our faces in a way you don't necessarily realize until something like this happens, so I understand why you'd be so angry about a burn on your face in a way you might not be if he had dripped the chemicals on your shoulder. Good luck.
posted by iminurmefi at 6:24 AM on June 22, 2007

You're not going to get anything beyond your costs from a small claims court, so be an adult and put together copies of your bills and send them to your dentist for reimbursement. Don't be so quick to sue people, its really not all you think it is.

If he won't reimburse you, then take him to court but that should rarely be your first port of call.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:19 PM on June 22, 2007

Accidents happen. Cover-ups are seriously bad. He fucked up, then tried to hide the fact. Any slack the dentist had coming his way was destroyed with his vaseline nonsense. Incompetant doctors and dentists are a danger to everyone.
posted by Goofyy at 12:45 AM on June 23, 2007

Personally? I think being "scared to death" is a little extreme. I can't imagine being worked up enough to claim anything more than some lost expenses seeing a dermatologist, and court should be your last-ditch effort, not your first move.
posted by loiseau at 2:41 AM on June 23, 2007

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