The Amazing Family Dental office certainly seems to deliver on its promise. Christopher Crist, a 21-year-old autistic man, claims that he went to have three teeth pulled only to find that the dentist pulled them all. That raises not only the possibility of a negligence claim but a battery claim against the dentist in tort.
Crist says that he told the dentist that his mother wanted only three teeth removed. However, he said that the dentist kept going. Notably, reporters say that they have tracked down other former patients who claim to have had whole rows of teeth removed without their permission. It is a bizarre case since it is unclear why a dentist would be inclined to remove more teeth than requested.
As discussed in Mohr v. Williams, 104 N.W. 12 (Minn. 1905), even successful surgeries can be battery without knowing consent. The fact that the patient is autistic could raise an added dimension if the dentist argues consent. Crist says that he conveyed the direct instructions of his mother on the number of teeth to be pulled. There is also the claim of a pattern with other patients which could lead to an admissibility issue. Before then, there will be clearly some intense depositions ahead for both sides. In the very least, the dentist needs to confirm consent more carefully with an individual with limited mental capacity or a mental disability.
If there was no consent, the damages would be interesting. It clearly includes pain and suffering which continues with having no teeth. Then there is the possibility of punitive damages. Such damages remain rare, but this would seem a good case for them if these allegations are proven.
The case could direct some needed attention on the state’s ridiculously low punitive damage cap, which was the subject of a recent controversy. Indiana caps punitive awards at $50,000 cap. The state then gets a three-quarter share, which goes to a fund that helps victims of violent crime. It is a law that protects the worst of tortfeasors, particularly companies and corporate violators. By limiting damages, the state makes it difficult to secure contingency counsel in difficult cases and makes some injuries as little more than a cost of doing business.
In the Indiana case, a judge had had enough in a case where a man sued for abuse by a Catholic priest and his uncle. The judge refused to reduce the $150,000 punitive award and then refused the demand of the state for its 75 percent cut. The state has appealed to the state supreme court.
Cases like these highlight the gross unfairness to litigants in facing these caps, which have not even been increased to reflect higher costs over the decades.
Source: New York Daily News