In many respects, when a client sues their dentist for malpractice, the action is much like any other personal injury claim. As with car accidents or premises liability claims, there is an allegation that the dentist breached a duty they owed to their client and injured them as a result. But there are also significant differences, and those differences are key to a successful defense.
The standard of care
Run-of-the-mill negligence cases usually turn on the ‘reasonable person’ standard. Would a reasonable person, under the circumstances, have acted similarly to the subject of the law suit? If they would, there is no negligence. Because it’s a standard based on the average person, most people can wrap their heads around it, including the person bringing the lawsuit.
Dental malpractice, however, is much more specialized. Dentistry is a profession requiring significant amounts of education and training before it can be done competently. The reasonable person standard has no application here and the average person is unlikely to know the difference between dentistry performed well and that which is not.
The standard of care for dentists reflects the specialized nature of the profession. The sounding board for whether the standard of care has been met is the host of other professionals within their field. And the question asked is not whether the care provided was the best possible option for the client at hand, because the reality is that different dentists will often reach different conclusions to that question. This makes the standard of care much more nebulous.
New York law requires that a claim for dental malpractice be brought within two years and six months of the action which allegedly caused the client’s injury. It provides a clear demarcation for when an action must be filed. However, the law does not even attempt to parse out the specifics of what is, or is not, dental negligence. Nor does it try to predict what diagnosis, treatment or procedure will be appropriate in the myriad situations dentists will face. Instead, it allows the profession to speak for itself.