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        Informed Consent: A dentist’s duty to refer

        The decisions that judges make are heavily influenced by society’s current values. Judgements handed out 100, 50 or even 20 years ago may have been decided very differently today as our attitudes to crime and responsibility have invariably changed.

        No more so is this true then in relation to doctors and the duty they owe patients. Whereas 50 years ago the doctor alone would decide how treatment would be undertaken, almost oblivious of patient concerns, society nowadays requires patient involvement in the every step of the treatment; patients need to be informed of all risks and alternative treatment options.

        However, some practitioners have not fully got the message. Patients are not always properly informed of all the information they may want to know to make a decision regarding their treatment. When this occurs and loss is caused, there is a possible claim for negligence.

        The Specter Partnership has recently successfully settled one such case. The client in question attended her dentist complaining of sharp pain in one of her molars. A filling was made but was ultimately ineffective. The general dental surgeon informed our client that she had two options; either a root canal treatment, with a very high cost and likelihood of failure, or an extraction and loss of the tooth.

        After much upset and worry, and suffering severe pain in her tooth, the client accepted the dentist’s opinion and decided to have the tooth extracted. In the following week she unfortunately suffered several painful complications. Not ultimately happy with her treatment, she decided to seek legal advice.

        Whilst neither the initial reason for the tooth’s extraction nor the complications following the procedure were the result of any negligent practice, the dentist’s advice did fall below a reasonable standard. As a general surgeon, he was not qualified to offer prospects above 50% for the root canal. Indeed this was correct advice.

        However, he failed to inform the client that a more specialised consultant would be able to successfully manage the more complicated root canal treatment. The duty to refer is a standard practice required b the British Medical Board and one which the dentist, perhaps wanting to avoid losing a client, did not meet. Had the patient known this, she would have elected to have the root canal and not lost the tooth and as a result the Specter Partnership was able to recover significant damages for the client.