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Maryland Court Discusses Discovery Rule in a Dental Malpractice

While people typically think of malpractice cases arising in the context of treatment for conditions of the body, dentists can be liable for malpractice as well. Dental malpractice claims, like other claims against health care providers, must be filed within the statutory time frame; otherwise, the injured party may waive the right to recover damages. The statute of limitations can be extended, though, in cases in which a person does not discover the cause of his or her harm immediately after it occurs. In a recent Maryland opinion issued in a dental malpractice case, the court discussed when the discovery rule applies to extend the statutory period. If you suffered harm due to a negligent dentist, it is smart to meet with a Maryland dental malpractice lawyer as soon as possible to protect your right to seek compensation.

The Plaintiff’s Harm

It is reported that in May 2015, the plaintiff consulted with the defendant dental center about having his wisdom teeth removed. He believed that a certain surgeon would be performing the procedure under twilight anesthesia, but the defendant dentist extracted his teeth using only a local anesthetic. After the procedure, his tongue was numb. He called the defendant center the next day it was open and reported he could not feel his tongue and was advised it was a normal side effect.

Allegedly, he returned to the defendant center four days later and then a week after that and was advised that his tongue would get better with time. Ultimately, he saw a second dentist in November 2015. While the dentist was surprised that the plaintiff could not feel his tongue, he did not indicate it was due to something the defendant dentist did. In July 2018, the plaintiff underwent a medical examination, after which the doctor advised him his tongue numbness was caused by a transection during his wisdom tooth extraction. The plaintiff then filed a malpractice claim against the defendants, who moved for summary judgment on the grounds the claim was barred by the statute of limitations. The court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Discovery Rule in Maryland Medical Malpractice Cases

The appellate court found that the trial court improperly ruled that the discovery rule did not apply to toll the statute of limitations and reversed its ruling. In Maryland, claims for damages for injuries caused by a health care provider must be filed within five years of the time the injury occurred or three years from the date the harm was discovered.

Finding the statutory rule to be unduly harsh, the Court of Appeals adopted the discovery rule, which provides that a cause of action accrues when the patient learns or reasonably should have learned, he or she has a valid claim. In the subject case, the trial court found that the plaintiff was on notice of his claim eleven days after the extraction when he stated he believed the defendant dentist might have been responsible. The appellate court found this reasoning to be flawed, noting that the defendant dentist advised that numbness was a normal side effect of the procedure. Thus, the appellate court reversed the trial court ruling.

Talk to a Trusted Maryland Attorney

Dentists, like other licensed professionals, have an obligation to offer their patients competent care, and if they fail to do so, they can be held liable for any harm caused by their carelessness. If you were harmed by dental malpractice, it is in your best interest to talk to an attorney about your potential claims. The trusted Baltimore lawyers of Arfaa Law Group can advise you of your rights and help you to pursue the maximum amount of compensation recoverable under the law. We can be reached via our online form or at (410) 889-1850 to set up a conference.

 

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