Mistakes and mishaps happen in every profession. But what happens when you’re a dental professional and make a mistake that causes great pain, worry, and suffering to a patient? Will your dental malpractice insurance company stand behind you and, most importantly, help you do the right thing for your patient and your livelihood?
Jessica McCarthy, Complex Claims Director for Berxi, which is part of Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance (BHSI), shares a real-life story of a dental malpractice claim involving a bright young dentist, an eight-year-old patient, and a terrible mistake.
“I Messed Up, Bad”
In her role, Jessica supports Berxi policy holders with claims related to complaints and board actions. So when a dental malpractice customer contacted Berxi’s Claims Hotline about an error made, Jessica was assigned the case.
From their first conversation, Jessica recalls the dentist saying “I messed up bad” with a young patient and that he needed help.
The patient was an eight-year-old who needed to have a tooth pulled to accommodate braces. Under normal circumstances, the dentist would have had up-to-date, accurate scans of the patient’s teeth, but due to cost restrictions from the patient’s insurance, he decided to do the procedure without new x-rays. What’s more, the dentist reported that the young patient was “incredibly upset and anxious” during treatment, which caused him to rush the procedure.
That’s what led to the shocking consequence.
“The dentist pulled the wrong tooth – an adult tooth,” shares Jessica. “And knew it as soon as he did it.”
The dentist wasn’t the only one who realized the error.
The patient’s parent, a dental hygienist, knew as well.
Worried about the impact of his mistake, the dentist did the only thing he could do: told the parent they would “make it right” and then turned to Berxi, their dental malpractice insurance provider, for help.
Determining the Impact of a Full Liability Dental Malpractice Claim
As part of the claims investigation, Jessica had to fully understand what happened and the standard of care for the profession.
“From a liability perspective, the situation was very clear-cut,” she shares. “The dentist took full responsibility for the mistake.”
In settling the dental malpractice complaint, Jessica’s challenge was to determine the monetary amount of the claim and to handle it as expeditiously as possible for the patient, the patient’s family, and the dentist.
She had to:
- Know where the tooth was located
- Learn the effect the mistake would have on the patient,
- Understand the treatment required to bring the young patient “back to baseline.”
The dentist explained that the extracted tooth was a back molar, which would make it uncomfortable for the patient to eat. He also provided Jessica with supporting documentation and, because of a planned trip, the contact information for the patient’s parent.
Working Toward a Fast & Appropriate Resolution
It’s not uncommon for patients and family members to be upset and angry when they’ve been impacted by a medical mistake. That’s why Jessica was pleasantly surprised when she spoke with the mother shortly after the claim was filed.
“She was extremely kind and helpful and knew a lot about teeth extraction given her experience working in the dental field,” Jessica recounts.
The mother was also very prepared and put together a treatment plan with input from an orthodontist, a periodontist, and another general dentist, all of whom would be needed to remedy the situation for her child.
Jessica was surprised by the extent of the treatment required.
“It was very complicated and expensive and involved multiple dental appointments and procedures in the short and long term,” she adds.
According to the plan:
- The tooth would need to be further extracted
- The child would need a ridge augmentation to recreate the contour of the gums and jaw
- The child would require another ridge augmentation when he outgrows the first.
Beyond these procedures, the mother considered the time she would need to take off from work to bring the child to the appointments. To calculate these costs, Jessica had to determine the mother’s hourly salary.
The mother proposed a settlement, which included money for the treatment and lost wages, and another amount for the patient’s suffering.
“In my experience, this was a reasonable request considering the multiple treatments involved and the discomfort the child would have eating,” Jessica shares.
Jessica presented the settlement offer to the dentist for his consent along with her recommendation to issue a counteroffer. The dentist, who agreed with the treatment plan, countered, and the case was settled shortly after.
The Difference a Responsive & Experienced Malpractice Insurance Company Can Make
Less than two months after learning about the claim, Jessica cut a check to the mother, closing the claim.
“The mother was so relieved to have the ordeal over,” remembers Jessica.
The dentist was happy that the case was closed, and that he did not have to undergo a malpractice suit or board action.
The story is living proof that mistakes can and do happen. It also emphasizes the importance of having a dental malpractice insurance provider who will have your back and work to get a complaint or claim filed against you resolved as quickly and fairly as possible.
That’s one of the differences of working with Berxi.
“We don’t just say claims is our product; we mean it,” shares Jessica. “With every claim, we strive to reach an amicable resolution for our clients as quickly as possible without sacrificing our investigations.”