Yet another medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit was filed and litigated in a California court following oral surgery for dental implants that resulted in the patient’s death. While there is often a high cost for physical beauty, death is a cost that is always deemed excessive. The 57 year old victim’s daughter was recently awarded large damages by a jury following an emotional trial. Our Illinois medical malpractice attorneys have handled many wrongful death cases and are experienced in obtaining the largest possible damage awards for our clients.
The victim sought out a dentist to perform dental implants, which is common in California. Dental implants are teeth with roots that are implanted to replace dead, damaged, or missing teeth. The new teeth can improve speech, comfort, oral health, and general durability. This operation, as in this particular case, is often sought out purely for cosmetic reasons, improving the appearance of one’s smile and self-esteem. The operation requires an anesthesiologist the patient then a dental surgeon to implant the new teeth into the patient’s gums.
In the case at hand, the victim opted for a procedure called ‘oral conscious sedation.’ Oral conscious sedation is a procedure where the patient remains awake throughout the procedure, despite being completely anesthetized. After receiving the procedure, the victim immediately went into cardiac arrest. She was rushed to the hospital where she was put on life support. After being diagnosed as brain dead, the victim’s daughter took her off life support. The official cause of death was the injection of a lethal dose of propofol.
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The victim’s daughter filed a medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit against both the dental office and the anesthesiologist. To be successful in a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove beyond a preponderance of the evidence that there was a duty between the parties, that the duty was breached by one of the parties, and that the breach was the proximate cause of a death. These lawsuits also have a requirement that an injury actually occurred, that element is always satisfied in wrongful death lawsuits because the death of a loved one creates pain and suffering sufficient to constitute a redressable injury.
The trial process revealed the fact that the dental office’s owner had been the defendant to several medical malpractice lawsuits over the years. At the time of the victim’s death, he happened to be implicated in 13 other legal proceedings for malpractice. To cast even more doubt on his character, this anesthesiologist has also been convicted of tax evasion and insurance fraud. Unfortunately, none of this information was known to the victim or her daughter at the time she chose this dental surgeon to operate.
The jury ultimately awarded the victim’s daughter a total of $635 thousand for pain and suffering. However, this award was then reduced by California’s medical malpractice damage cap to $250 thousand. This cap on damages has spawned fervent debate amongst many.
There are both positives and negatives to caps or limits on punitive damages. On the one side, it is important to prevent juries’ abilities from awarding excessive amounts of money that debilitate the medical and health care industry. Conversely, it is important to ensure that victims and their families receive appropriate remedies. Defining appropriate monetary damages is always difficult because no amount of money can fully remedy the death of a loved one. While it is important to have some reasonable damages cap limiting jury power, the award this victim’s daughter received was far beneath what it should have been.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice or wrongful death, you should contact an attorney immediately to determine if you are entitled to damages.