Ms. P presented to a dental clinic with complaints of pain in her lower jaw. Her condition was assessed by Dr. A, and it was diagnosed by her that the pain was arising from the seventh tooth of the patient and that the tooth required immediate extraction. Ms. P followed Dr. A’s advice and got her seventh tooth extracted. However, even after extraction, the patient was still not relieved from the pain. Then Ms. P decided to consult another dentist, Dr. S, from whom she got to know that she had been misdiagnosed by Dr. A. The problem was not in the seventh tooth, but in the sixth tooth, and that the wrong tooth was extracted by Dr. A. Subsequently when Ms. P approached Dr. A, she refused to meet the patient.
The patient filed a medicolegal lawsuit against Dr. A in the consumer forum, alleging that Dr. A had wrongly diagnosed the cause of her lower jaw pain. Furthermore, a wrong tooth was extracted because of the misdiagnosis. A team of senior doctors was given the charge to investigate the case, and it was found that Dr. A was liable under “Tortious Liability” and directed Dr. A to pay a monetary penalty as a compensation to the patient.
After reviewing various dental medicolegal cases, experts have categorized the cases of dental malpractice into the following:
1. Tortious Liability –
a. Primary liability – A dentist is primarily liable if he/she is directly accountable for negligence towards a patient in his/her clinic or hospital. This is considered to be one of the most common types of dental negligence.
b. Vicarious liability- This is when a dentist who is employed by a hospital or institution, is not directly responsible for negligence. In this case, the hospital is liable for any negligence on behalf of an employee.
2. Contractual Liability – When a physician accepts a patient for the treatment, he enters into an implied contract with the patient. Any act that results in the breach of this contract may lead to contractual liability. In the event of no written contract between a patient and his physician, the physician automatically comes under tortious liability.
3. Statutory Liability – A dentist is liable under statutory liability if there is any breach of state law governing the treatment of a patient.
So, What Can A Dentist Do If Held Liable?
1. A dentist should always have complete patient case record to defend themselves during litigation.
2. A dentist should always inform their patients in case of a diagnostic error and should take all the efforts and measures to rectify or minimize the consequences of the error.
3. If a medicolegal case is suspected, the physician should immediately get in touch with a protection organization to seek legal advice.