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Calculating Dental Malpractice Settlement Amounts

Published July 9, 2024

Understanding dental malpractice claims is important for legal professionals, clients, and healthcare providers. These claims can significantly affect the quality of life for both plaintiffs and defendants, highlighting the importance of resolving malpractice claims with precision and fairness. Settlements in these cases aim to address financial restitution, accountability, and the appropriate recovery for all parties affected by alleged professional oversight or negligence.

Forensic economists are integral to this process. Using economic theory, data analysis, and an understanding of healthcare costs, they help determine equitable settlements that fairly consider the potential financial disruptions caused by the malpractice. Since 1979, The Knowles Group has been providing such services and continues to do so in courtrooms throughout North America. In this article, we will examine various dental malpractice scenarios and their potential settlement outcomes.

What is Dental Malpractice?

Dental malpractice claims are medical malpractice claims that occur when a dental professional fails to provide a reasonable and expected standard of care, leading to harm or injury to a patient. This can include actions taken or not taken by the dentist, dental hygienist, or other dental staff that fall below the accepted practice standards, resulting in negative outcomes for the patient. Like medical malpractice cases, a breach of the standard of care must be demonstrated in dental malpractice cases and it must be proven that this breach directly caused the patient’s harm. Malpractice lawsuits can arise due to various situations, including

  • Extraction Injuries: Common dental extractions can lead to serious complications, including excessive bleeding, infection, or damage to adjacent teeth or jawbone.
  • Dental Implant Complications: Implants involve risks such as nerve damage, implant failure, or infection. Malpractice claims may arise if the dentist fails to properly plan the procedure, execute it with the necessary skill, or follow up appropriately.
  • Endodontic Procedure Complications: Root canal treatments can sometimes result in complications such as perforation of the tooth root, incomplete removal of the nerve tissue, or infections that lead to abscesses. Malpractice arises if these outcomes are due to negligence or failure to meet the required standard of care.
  • Periodontal Disease Mismanagement: Failure to diagnose or treat gum disease appropriately can lead to advanced periodontal disease, tooth loss, and significant damage to the jawbone. Dentists have a duty to monitor and manage these conditions before they escalate.
  • Failure to Diagnose or Treat Oral Diseases and Conditions: This encompasses a failure to recognize signs of oral cancer, infections, or other serious conditions. Early detection is critical for many oral health issues, and a dentist’s failure to identify these problems can lead to severe health consequences.
  • Anesthesia Complications: The misuse of anesthesia, whether it be giving too much, too little, or not properly monitoring the patient, can result in significant harm, including brain injury or death and can lead to a dental malpractice lawsuit.

Is there a formula for calculating economic damages in dental malpractice settlements?

Every dental malpractice claim is unique. The same injury can affect two people in drastically different ways. Their health, career, and fringe benefit resources affect the claim’s final value. Due to these differences, there’s no exact formula for calculating dental malpractice claims. Yet, there are general guidelines that most malpractice claims follow. Lawyers usually separate damages into two categories. The first is economic damages (often referred to as special damages), and the second is non-economic damages (often referred to as general damages). Based on this information, an inexact formula would be as follows:

Settlement Value = Economic Damages (Past & Future) + Non-Economic Damages (Past & Future)

Economic damages are calculated utilizing assumptions and generally accepted methodologies. Examples include medical bills and future earnings capacity. Non-economic damages are less precise. They involve elements such as pain and suffering, which are hard to assign financial value. One method for determining them is investigating comparable cases from the past. Even so, determining the exact value of a claim requires thorough analysis.

Examples of Dental Malpractice Settlement Amounts

The following scenarios illustrate the various degrees of dental malpractice that may lead to litigation. Each level of severity includes a hypothetical example that demonstrates possible settlement values.

Minor Cases: $0 – $10,000

These cases typically involve temporary discomfort or minor injuries that do not require significant medical intervention to resolve. Examples could include temporary nerve irritation from a dental procedure, minor oral infections that are quickly resolved with treatment, or allergic reactions to materials used during treatment that did not result in lasting harm.

Hypothetical Example of a Minor Dental Malpractice Case

Jane visited her local dentist for a routine dental cleaning. During the cleaning, the hygienist used an ultrasonic scaler that had not been properly sanitized between patients. As a result, Jane developed a mild oral infection that caused discomfort and required a course of antibiotics for treatment. The infection resolved completely within two weeks, and Jane missed two days of work to manage her discomfort and visit her doctor for the prescription. Nonetheless, Jane decides to hire a dental malpractice attorney and file a claim against her dentist. Here are the damages involved in this case

Damages Involved in the Case

  • Medical Expenses: Costs incurred for the diagnosis and treatment of injuries or health conditions resulting from malpractice. This includes expenses for doctor visits, prescription medications, and any necessary medical procedures.

Hypothetical Medical Expense Damages Awarded: $200 for doctor’s visits and antibiotics.

  • Lost Wages: Compensation for income lost due to time taken off work for medical treatment and recovery. This is calculated based on the patient’s average earnings.

Hypothetical Lost Wage Damages Award: Assuming Jane earns $150 daily, the total for two days of missed work would be $300.

  • Pain and Suffering: Compensation for physical pain and emotional distress experienced as a result of the malpractice. While challenging to quantify, especially in minor cases, it takes into account the severity and duration of the patient’s discomfort.

Hypothetical Pain and Suffering Damages Awarded: $500, reflecting the temporary discomfort and stress caused by the infection.

Total Hypothetical Settlement: $1,000

Moderate Cases Requiring Limited Intervention: $10,000 – $30,000

Moderate settlements may involve cases where the patient experienced short-term disabilities or required additional dental procedures to correct a mistake. This could include improper dental work that necessitated correction, such as a poorly executed filling, crown, or root canal treatment, leading to temporary pain, infection, or the need for additional dental care.

Hypothetical Example of a Moderate Dental Malpractice Case 
Jordan went to the dentist for what was supposed to be a routine crown placement. Unfortunately, due to the dentist’s oversight, the crown was improperly fitted, causing Jordan severe pain and leading to an infection. The situation required the removal of the poorly fitted crown, treatment of the infection, and placement of a new crown by a specialist. Jordan was in pain for several weeks and had to take time off work to deal with the dental issues.

Damages Involved in the Case

  • Medical Expense Damages Awarded: $7,000 for the removal of the initial crown, treatment of the infection, and placement of a new crown, including all associated follow-up visits.
  • Lost Wage Damages Awarded: Jordan, earning $500 per week, lost $2,000 in total over the four weeks taken off to recover and attend dental appointments.
  • Pain and Suffering Damages Awarded: $8,000, reflecting the physical pain and discomfort experienced over several weeks, as well as the stress and inconvenience of undergoing additional dental procedures.

Additional Damage Category

  • Emotional Distress: Compensation for the psychological impact of an injury, including anxiety, fear, depression, and other mental health conditions resulting from the malpractice. Unlike pain and suffering, which focuses on physical discomfort, emotional distress specifically addresses the psychological toll on the patient.

Hypothetical Emotional Distress Damages Awarded: $5,000, recognizing the significant stress, sleeplessness, and anxiety Jordan experienced as a result of the dental malpractice and its repercussions on his daily life.

Total Hypothetical Settlement: $22,000

Significant Cases Needing Surgery or Rehabilitation: $30,000 – $100,000

Significant dental malpractice includes more serious cases that result in significant harm to the patient, requiring surgical intervention or extensive rehabilitation. Examples might be improperly performed extractions leading to serious infection, significant damage to jaw structure, or cases of severe periodontal disease due to negligent care, resulting in multiple tooth losses.

Hypothetical Example of a Significant Dental Malpractice Case 

Taylor sought treatment for what was diagnosed as a simple case of periodontal disease. However, due to the dentist’s negligent treatment plan and failure to follow up appropriately, Taylor’s condition worsened, leading to severe periodontal infection and the loss of multiple teeth. This outcome necessitated several surgical interventions for infection control and dental implants, along with a lengthy rehabilitation process for recovery and adjustment to the implants.

Damages Involved in the Case

  • Medical Expense Damages Awarded: $40,000, covering extensive surgical treatments for infection control, multiple dental implants, and associated rehabilitation costs.
  • Lost Wage Damages Awarded: $10,000, reflecting the substantial time Taylor had to take off work for surgeries, recovery, and dental appointments.
  • Pain and Suffering Damages Awarded: $30,000, for the enduring physical pain from the severe infection and surgeries, and the discomfort and adjustment to dental implants.
  • Emotional Distress Damages Awarded: $10,000, accounting for the psychological impact of facing significant dental health issues, undergoing multiple surgeries, and coping with the loss and replacement of multiple teeth.

Additional Damage Category

  • Loss of Life Quality: Compensation for the diminishment in the patient’s overall enjoyment of life and ability to engage in daily activities and hobbies. This category recognizes the broader impact of severe dental issues on a person’s lifestyle, social interactions, and self-esteem.

Hypothetical Loss of Life Quality Damages Awarded: $15,000, acknowledging the significant changes and limitations in Taylor’s daily life, including dietary restrictions, challenges in speaking and smiling confidently, and the need to adapt to a new oral health routine.

Total Hypothetical Settlement: $105,000

Severe Malpractice Leading to Long-term or Permanent Damage: $100,000 – $500,000

Settlements at this level typically involve cases where the patient suffers from long-term or permanent injuries due to dental malpractice. This might include severe nerve damage resulting in chronic pain or loss of sensation, extensive loss of bone structure requiring reconstructive surgery, or cases where a failure to diagnose oral cancer in a timely manner led to an advanced disease requiring extensive treatment and resulting in significant pain and suffering.

Catastrophic Cases with Permanent Disability or Death: $1,000,000+

The highest settlement amounts are reserved for cases involving catastrophic harm due to egregious professional negligence. These cases might involve permanent disability, such as significant facial disfigurement, loss of jaw function, or wrongful death due to severe infections or complications from anesthesia. In these situations, the dental professional may also face severe professional repercussions, including the loss of their license.

Hypothetical Example of Severe Dental Malpractice Case

Chris visited a dental clinic complaining of persistent toothache. Unfortunately, due to a significant oversight, the dentist failed to diagnose oral cancer at an early stage. The delay in diagnosis allowed the cancer to progress to a more advanced stage, requiring aggressive treatment, including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Chris suffered from long-term complications, including severe pain, loss of jawbone structure, and substantial changes in the ability to speak and eat, necessitating ongoing medical care and adaptations for daily living.

Damages Involved in the Case

  • Medical Expenses: $150,000, covering the cost of cancer treatment, reconstructive surgeries, and ongoing care needs.
  • Lost Wages and Loss of Earning Capacity: $100,000, considering Chris had to take an extended leave from work and was ultimately unable to return to his previous profession due to the long-term effects of the treatment and illness.
  • Pain and Suffering: $135,000 to compensate for the chronic pain, significant lifestyle changes, and the emotional toll of dealing with a severe, life-altering condition.
  • Emotional Distress: $50,000, acknowledging the profound psychological impact of the cancer diagnosis, the intensive treatments, and the fear and uncertainty about the future.
  • Loss of Quality of Life: $40,000, considering the drastic changes to Chris’s ability to engage in hobbies, social activities, and other life pleasures that were part of his routine before the malpractice.

New Damage Category

  • Loss of Consortium: Compensation awarded to the spouse or close family members for the loss of the patient’s companionship, affection, support, and marital relations due to the injuries. This recognizes the ripple effect that severe injuries can have on the patient’s closest relationships.

Hypothetical Loss of Consortium Damages Award: $25,000, reflecting the strain and changes in Chris’s relationships with family members, especially the altered dynamic with his spouse due to his long-term health and care needs.

Total Hypothetical Settlement: $500,000

Is There A Difference Between Dental Malpractice And Dental Negligence?

Dental Malpractice refers to a breach of the professional duty of care by a dental professional towards their patient. It involves an act or omission by the dentist that deviates from the accepted standard of care in the dental community and results in harm to the patient. Malpractice claims hinge on proving that the dentist’s conduct fell below this standard, directly causing the patient’s injury.

Dental Negligence, on the other hand, is a broader concept that encompasses any form of carelessness by a dental professional that leads to patient harm. It doesn’t necessarily require a breach of the professional standard of care. Negligence might involve more mundane or indirect errors, such as administrative oversights or failure to maintain proper hygiene practices, which nonetheless result in patient harm.

The distinction lies in the specificity and intent. Malpractice is specific to professional actions directly related to the care provided, requiring a detailed understanding of dental standards. Negligence can include a wider range of errors or oversights, not all of which require professional dental expertise to assess.

We Provide Accurate Dental Malpractice Economic Damage Calculations and Expert Witness Testimony

The Knowles Group will provide accurate calculations of the economic damages for dental malpractice claims and medical malpractice lawsuits. If an expert economic witness is needed, we’ll testify in court to the damage calculations for your dental malpractice claim. We work with both plaintiffs and defendants alike. We can critique opposing analyses and give testimony to ensure reasonable damages (if any) on behalf of the defendant. When hired by the plaintiff, we calculate the estimate of damages and provide expert testimony to ensure a fair settlement or jury verdict.

If you’ve suffered a dental malpractice incident or need expert economic support for your defense, have your dental malpractice lawyer contact us today.


Eric Knowles, MBA

The Knowles Group has been providing professional economic services to the legal community since 1979. The firm has worked on behalf of thousands of attorneys in a dozen states and Canada. Testimony has been provided in both federal and state venues.