In a 2013 case, a woman appealed after the court granted summary judgment in her malpractice claim against a dentist and his practice. The dentist had claimed she filed her action outside the two-year statute of limitations.
The plaintiff had problems with her teeth and saw two dentists. She was referred to Dr. Braswell, who examined her teeth and found problems. Dr. Braswell referred her to the defendant, who had a specialty in prosthetics and an oral surgeon. The dentist created a treatment plan. He also took bite models and installed prostheses. The oral surgeon performed extraction and implant surgeries.
The dentist found she needed a full mouth prosthodontic reconstruction. He outlined a series of procedures she would need. The dentist put together a letter outlining his plan to install fixed implant prostheses. The oral surgeon extracted some of the woman’s teeth based on the dentist’s surgical guides. The dentist found that the implants were too deep, too close and at an incorrect orientation.
A few weeks after the oral surgeon did the procedure, the dentist consulted with another dentist who confirmed his opinion about the improper placement of the implants. The dentist didn’t tell the plaintiff that they were improperly placed and instead decided to work around the problems with the implants without consultation.
The prosthetics were misaligned. The plaintiff complained to the dentist that her teeth overlapped and she couldn’t chew properly. The dentist made adjustments and sent her to the oral surgeon for a further exam. The oral surgeon told the plaintiff the reconstruction was taking too long and that it was too narrow. The dentist continued to adjust.
The dentist referred the plaintiff to another dentist for a second opinion. The second dentist recommended that he redo the reconstruction. The plaintiff had several additional procedures from the second dentist and others. The plaintiff sued the dentist for professional malpractice, negligence per se, and breach of contract.
The defendants moved for summary judgment claiming she filed outside the two-year statute of limitations. The trial court granted the motion and the plaintiff appealed.
Under OCGA § 9-3-71, actions for medical malpractice must be brought within two years of the date of injury or death from a negligent or wrongful act. The last date of injury for the plaintiff was 2007, when she got her last prosthesis. The plaintiff had only filed in January 2010.
The plaintiff argued on appeal that the statute of limitations was tolled by the dentist’s fraudulent failure to tell her of his opinion that the implants had been improperly placed before they were integrated with the bone and were therefore harder to remove. The trial court had relied on Georgia case law.
In Georgia medical malpractice cases, once a plaintiff seeks diagnosis from another doctor, she is not stopped from learning true facts by the defendant’s conduct. This is so, even if the other doctor doesn’t diagnose a medical problem from the defendant’s negligent treatment. In this case, the plaintiff’s visits to the oral surgeon ended the tolling period.
The appellate court ruled that the oral surgeon was one of the original treating physicians and the practitioner who allegedly improperly placed the implants. By consulting with the oral surgeon, the plaintiff had not sought an independent medical opinion from which she could learn of her cause of action. The judgment was reversed.
If you or a loved one is hurt due to dental malpractice, you may be able to recover compensation for your losses. Experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney Terrence R. Bethune can evaluate your case and fight for any compensation you may deserve. Contact us at (470) 709-0666 or via our online form.
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