Could Dental Malpractice be Considered Murder?

Deadly Dentistry - Part 6 - Could Dental Malpractice be Considered Murder?

A California dentist, Dr. Claire, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of his son, after performing a routine dental procedure. Patrick Claire, a developmentally disabled 36-year-old whose condition resembled autism, died shortly after having a painful wisdom tooth extracted by his father. Patrick died from respiratory failure and cardiac arrest as a result of an overdose of the sedatives morphine and valium. The dentist had been practicing for forty years and had a history of complaints filed against him for sedation-related issues. Morphine is not an approved sedative and Dr. Claire did not have a license to practice aesthetics.

What elevated the incident of death from dental malpractice to suspicion of murder was the testimony of an eyewitness to the entire procedure. Sandra Montoya was the dental assistant at the time and claimed that Dr. Claire did nothing when she tried to alert him that his son was struggling to breathe. She said that the doctor claimed that such was common and his son was prone to having seizures. After Ms. Montoya left work at 5:00 pm the doctor waited an hour and called 911. When police and rescue workers arrived around 6:00 pm they found Dr. Claire half-heartedly administering CPR to his son with a force the equivalent of “honking a car horn with one hand”. Patrick was taken to a local hospital where he was declared dead. Montoya told police that she did not see the doctor administer the required blood pressure tests to Patrick prior to giving him the sedatives and that there were no vital signs monitored during the procedure as required by law.

Although Dr. Claire claimed that he had given Patrick a standard intravenous dosage of valium and morphine, lethal amounts nearly three times the required level to sedate a patient of his height and weight were found in his system including some in his stomach. It was discovered that Patrick had sought medical attention at the local emergency room and was given pain prescription painkillers including novocaine. It is suspected that Patrick, a known local drug user, could have secured the morphine illegally and used it to relieve his pain without telling his father.

Because of the uncertainties of Patrick’s prior drug use the DA was unable to proceed with murder charges. Dr. Claire cut a deal with the DA’s office and plead no-contest to the charge of “unlicensed sedation under circumstances or conditions that caused death” and agreed to three years probation and surrendered his California dental license. No arrests were ever made.

Article and Image Credit: Original Dallas Morning News Deadly Denistry Series

Did The Hospital Kill Her Mom?

Angel Reyes Blog - Did the Hospital Kill Her Mom?

Because of the routine simplicity of administering medical procedures, like setting a broken bone or having minor surgery, doctors are seemingly confounded when things go wrong and a patient dies. Their reaction can be to blame a rare syndrome or condition as the cause of the death, one that they have never seen before, and that they were caught by surprise. They may claim that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent the patient’s death. More often than not, however, the rare syndrome diagnosis is just a cover for medical malpractice and doctor and hospital negligence.

A recent story written by a hospital patient advocacy group, ProPublica for the website, tells the story of women who was admitted to a hospital for the treatment of minor seizures and was simply to be given medication, held for observation and released. What was to be a routine treatment turned out to trigger a series of events that caused her death. And the upshot is that neither the doctors or the hospital have ever been held accountable for their negligence.

ProPublica, through a questionnaire sent to the survivors of people who have died due to likely hospital malpractice, found that the woman somehow fell out of her hospital bed and broke both her hip and her wrist. It’s not a stretch to see how a person suffering from seizures could fall and hurt themselves if not properly medicated and supervised. The bone breaks were not diagnosed or treated for days and when they finally were an expensive hip replacement was performed. The hip replacement surgery caused a severe infection. All this time the patient was being given an improper IV for her seizures that caused her to seek medical treatment in the first place and she suffered severe swelling in her arm, neck and face. When the patient died, the hospital claimed that the cause of death was a rare disease that was caused by the IV drip and that they had never seen it before.

To date, the hospital has failed to acknowledge their negligence or even admit to any harm they may have caused this patient. The survivors have been left in dismay over the apathy shown to them over their mother’s death on the part of the hospital administration and its doctors. Paraphrasing the deceased woman’s daughter, “she survived a career as a war correspondent, a lifelong struggle with scoliosis and beat cancer, but could not make it through a weekend at the local hospital.”

Thanks to Daily Beast

Hospitals Focus On Doing No Harm

Medical Malpractice

Hospitals Focus On Doing No Harm

It comes as a shock when a loved one dies during a routine hospital visit. It is assumed that hospital employees do everything they can to make your visit as safe as possible, however, hospital-related deaths in the United States number from around 98,000 to 440,000 each year according to a study conducted in 2013. Hospitals take patient safety seriously and are implementing measures and training employees in an attempt to reduce the number of these fatalities.

Private and public organizations have formed to address the problem of hospital fatalities. The most high-profile programs are The Institute for Healthcare Improvement, The Armstrong Institute for Healthcare Improvement, and The Partnership for Patients. All three organizations endeavor to work closely with hospital administrators to implement simple programs designed to reduce hospital fatality rates. The reasons that patients die in hospitals are many, but the main focus of these groups is on preventing infection. Infections alone account for around 75,000 needless, preventable hospital deaths per year.

In an effort to reduce infections, hospitals are implementing programs patterned after the infection-preventing pioneer Florence Nightingale, to get all hospital workers to be cognizant of the role they can play in improving hospital hygiene. The program focusses on getting workers to wash their hands as the first thing they do when they enter a patient’s room. Studies have shown that prioritizing hand washing is inconsistent in hospitals and that workers forget most of the time. Those in charge of hospital patient safety are implementing the use of video cameras, standardizing the placement of sinks, and installing sensors to prevent one from having to touch a lever to turn the water on and off as measures to monitor and encourage hand washing.

In addition to hand washing, hospitals report cutting the incidences of bloodstream infections in half by prioritizing hygiene prior to common procedures like inserting needles and catheters. Hospitals also have attempted to identify and reduce needless catheterizations.

Cutting the infection rate in surgery is another area that is getting attention. Standardized surgical procedures can be hygienically improved to reduce the incidences of infection. Orlando Health has reduced surgical-related infectious deaths by 44 percent over the last 4 years in their 7 hospitals by limiting surgical personnel entering and exiting the surgical room, prohibiting personal items like backpacks and cell phones from entering the operating room, and by using ultraviolet disinfection methods.

Reducing pressure ulcers, commonly known as bedsores in patients that are confined to their beds is yet another area where patient infections occur. Skin ulcers can develop in as little as two hours and hospitals that are successful in reducing their incidences are addressing the following areas of concern:

  1. Ensuring that the patient eats properly and stays hydrated
  2. Preventing and treating wet skin irritations
  3. Eliminate a patient’s contact with medical devices
  4. Standardize regular inspections for these items
  5. Vigilantly maintaining these procedures

Hospitals that are making pressure ulcers a priority, i.e., inspecting and treating for a lack of hygiene, nutrition, and hydration, have reduced the incidences of pressure ulcers by 40% to 95%. In addition to reducing the incidences of infections, other measures that are being taken to reduce patient fatality rates are preventing blood clots, early detection of sepsis, and preventing falling injuries.

Thanks to: NY Times’ Blog

Deadly Dentistry – Part 7 – Common Sense Questions to Ask Prior to a Dental Visit

Deadly Dentistry - Part 7 - Common Sense Questions to Ask Prior to a Dental Visit

The Dallas Morning News’ investigation of deadly dentist uncovered that since 2010 approximately 1000 dental patients have died due to the negligence of dentists, their assistants and paid anesthetic subcontractors. It is impossible to estimate how many more have been seriously harmed. The Dallas Morning News claims that it is not their intention to scare people away from taking their children to the dentist, or going themselves, and have created a list of questions that you should ask before visiting a dentist.

Of all of the questions that the The Dallas Morning News recommends that you should ask, the one that strikes me as the most important is “have you checked out your dentist online?” It is recommended that you use the internet to do as much research as possible into your dentist’s background by searching on the internet for any malpractice history or complaints that your dentist may have lodged against him/her. Google the dentist’s name and also check the news tabs to see if there were any high-profile cases that he/she may have been involved in. You could call a local dental malpractice lawyer and ask if they know of any state agencies that keep records of cases of dental discipline.

Ask your friends, business associates and neighbors to refer you to a dentist that they have used for a long time.

Above all, read any brochures that you are given or written instruction that you are to follow very carefully prior to treatment. Request an appointment with your dentist for the purpose of asking any question that you have come up with such as what sedative you or your child will be given and in what quantities. Ask your dentist what training he has in administering these drugs and what would he do in an emergency if something unexpected goes wrong. Ask how long after the treatment will you or your child be required to stay in the office and insist that you are given ample water to drink.

Thousands of people are killed by dental malpractice every year. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed by the negligence of a dentist, the staff or their anesthetic contractor, give the Reyes Browne Reilley law offices a call. We are experienced and knowledgeable Dallas personal injury attorneys and are waiting to speak with you free of charge.

Article Credit: Original Dallas Morning News Deadly Denistry Series

Deadly Dentistry – Part 5 – Most States Do Not Report Dental Malpractice

Deadly Dentistry - Part 5 - Most States Do Not Report Dental Malpractice

The Dallas Morning News conducted a comprehensive test of all states and found that each state has an agency set up for the express purpose of monitoring and recording negligent dentist’s negligent behavior. All agencies get failing grades, however, in terms of uncovering, tracking or making public the records of dentists who have caused patient deaths. A summary of the findings leads the reader to conclude that dentists that injure, maim, and kill their patients are being shielded from full transparency to the public.

The result is that it is very difficult if not impossible to tell if your dentist has been involved in litigation with a patient or if complaints have been registered against them. In addition, there is a complete lack of cooperation between states and that leads to rogue dentists losing a license in one state and just setting up shop in another. Here are just a few of the areas where government agencies that monitor dentists need to do more.

  • Arizona, Connecticut, and Rhode Island don’t require dentists to report patient deaths. In addition to those three states, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire do not require a reporting of even nonfatal incidents.
  • When reporting an incident states seldom require the disclosure that the incident was treatment-related.
  • More than 80% of all states will not release reports of death and or non-fatal incidents.
  • Nearly all states fail to maintain a public record of their disciplinary actions against dentists and those that did fail to provide a direct link to the database of disciplinary documents.

State agencies are failing miserably to record, track and report incidents of dental malpractice across the country. Not only is the tracking information difficult to get from one state to another, getting this information by the public is next to impossible. This is leading to incompetent and deadly dentist being able to hop from state to state to practice dentistry after they have severely injured or killed a patient.

Article and Image Credit: Original Dallas Morning News Deadly Denistry Series

Deadly Dentistry – Part 4 – Government Oversight for Dental Malpractice?

Deadly Dentistry - Part 4 - Government Oversight for Dental Malpractice?

Even if a dentist commits malpractice and has his license to practice taken away, it’s easy for them to simply set up shop in another state as if nothing ever happened. In Texas, all a dentist is required to do is fill out an online form when applying for a license. One of the only probative questions an online form asks is if any disciplinary action has ever been taken by another state against them. Doctors simply check “no”, and then feign ignorance of the meaning of the question if challenged. A doctor’s credibility will be questioned only after a doctor kills another patient and a zealous wrongful death attorney uncovers the dentist’s disciplinary history in an investigation. Even then it is difficult to ascertain the truth since only anonymous records are made public.

Negligent dentists have been relocating to Texas with impunity. Until recently Texas was not checking the National Practitioner Data Bank to determine if the dentist had a disciplinary record in another state. But due to the diligence of the Dallas Morning News investigating rogue dentists and the deaths they cause, Texas has been prompted to take action. The Texas State Board of Dental Examiners has hired a new executive director who has pledged to check all new applications to practice dentistry in Texas. Also, the director has created a position where a person will be put in charge of investigating the disciplinary history of applicants.

According to the Dallas Morning News, there have been a number of dentists who have been fined or lost or surrendered their license due to committing dental malpractice and then simply set up shop in another state.

Dr. Craig Morris, an oral surgeon, suffocated two different patients and when the Nevada state Dental Commission investigated, he negotiated a deal to voluntarily surrender his Nevada Dental license. He was granted a license to practice in Texas.

Dr. Thomas Teich a convicted insurance fraud felon and admitted cocaine addict who had been barred in Arizona, was subsequently granted a license to practice in California.

Dr. Takashi Koyama was disciplined in Florida in 2012 with a $10,000 fine for causing the death of a patient due to failing to monitor the patient’s sedation and botching the emergency treatment. He is currently a lecturer at Nova Southeastern University.

You need to check not only the credentials but also the disciplinary history of the dentist that you are considering going to because your life or the life of your child will be in his hands. Given the lack of oversight and reporting, governments may be failing to keep rogue dentists who may have killed patients from practicing in your town.

Article and Image Credit: Original Dallas Morning News Deadly Denistry Series

Deadly Dentistry – Part 3 – Dental Sedation Kills?

Deadly Dentistry - Part 3 - Dental Sedation Kills?

Administering anesthetics in a dental office this every bit as dangerous as getting anesthetics before surgery in a hospital. If you are admitted to a hospital for surgery you can rest assured that a trained physician, one with experience and a degree in anesthesiology will be in charge of your sedation. When you go to the dentist, however, even for something even as simple is a tooth extraction or to fill a cavity, you’ll receive potent anesthetics from a dental assistant sometimes with only a two-year Associate’s degree. While a professional anesthetist can rely on the training of 8 or more years of college in the specialty of anesthesia, the dental assistant training is limited to following state mandated guidelines and reading the back of prescription medication bottles. Sometimes the dental anesthetist is an independent contractor hired by the dentist to administer the anesthetics.

The American Association of pediatric dentistry, as well as the American Association of pediatric medicine, have published a set of guidelines that Dental anesthetists are advised to follow. Some of the basic signs that the anesthetist is required to monitor is a patient’s temperature, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels. In addition, the dental anesthetist is required to make sure the patient stays awake in the office for at least 20 minutes after the sedation wears off. When the patient is proven to be awake and alert and has been given sufficient water to drink the patient can be released.

Standard dental sedation brochures stress the importance of being hydrated after the 20 minutes resting period. This is critical because the patient is advised to do a mini-fast, not drink anything or eat anything for up to 24 hours before the dental visit. Fasting can leave a patient, especially a young child severely dehydrated. Extenuating circumstances like a long ride home on a hot day in a car with a broken air conditioner can exacerbate the deadly effects of dehydration and can cause death in young children whose systems are more delicate. Such was the case of a four-year-old Oklahoma child who died of dehydration as a result of the negligence of the dentist, the dental office, and the subcontracted anesthetist. Court records indicate that the anesthetist failed to properly monitor the child’s vital signs during the dental procedure, failed to keep the child present after the procedures, and failed to advise or give the child any fluids for rehydration. The child’s family what’s awarded $500,000 in a settlement where the plaintiff’s admitted no guilt. Oklahoma State officials have taken no legal action against the dental team to date.

Article and Image Credit: Original Dallas Morning News Deadly Denistry Series

Deadly Dentistry – Part 2 – The Ways Dentists Can Kill

Deadly Dentistry - Part 2 - The Ways Dentists Can Kill

No one would assume that going to the dentist is as risky to one’s health as having a heart bypass operation or other invasive surgery. Surprisingly, national statistics indicates that one person dies from dental Malpractice every other day and that number could be low since few states with the exception of Texas keep meaningful records of deaths from dental negligence. While the percentage of people who die from a dental visit when compared with all people who go to the dentist is low, any death from a dental visit is shocking.

Nobody expects to die from a dental visit.

There are several ways people die as a result of going to the dentist. The most frequent ways are over-sedation, infection, and complications with other prescription medications.

Over Sedation

Patients, including young children are routinely given a cocktail of painkillers and sedatives, before, during, and after receiving dental treatment to reduce pain and relieve anxiety. With little or no training in the proper administration of anesthesia, doctors must follow the drug manufacturer’s recommended dosages. Most dental assistants rely on little more information than that on the back of the drug bottle.


When you have a dental procedure, from a routine cleaning to oral surgery, bleeding may occur and if surgical instruments are not properly sterilized, serious infection can develop. Fresh masks and gloves, as well as a new dental kit from an independent sterilization company, should be used.


Older patients are usually taking prescription medications for a number of maladies such as high cholesterol or blood pressure and the consequences of mixing them with dental anesthetics are seldom considered. A person’s prescription medications should be listed on a form and evaluated by the dentist to make a decision as to whether or not adding dental sedatives could harm the patient.

Overdosing, infections, and complications with other drugs are just a few ways dentists commit medical malpractice every day. Far too many dentists either don’t have the specialty training or the resources to hire additional dental help to perform anesthetics, sterilization, and patient analytics. Errors in these areas can lead to patient injury and death.

Article and Image Credit: Original Dallas Morning News Deadly Denistry Series

Deadly Dentistry – Part 1 – Dental Offices Are Not Hospitals

Deadly Dentistry - Part 1 - Dental Offices Are Not Hospitals

When a young child is in the hospital for a surgical procedure, the principals in attendance are usually a surgeon, nurses, and very importantly, an anesthesiologist whose primary responsibility is to properly administer an anesthetic to the patient so that the patient can comfortably endure the pain of the surgery. Surgeons in hospitals don’t administer anesthesia, and it’s for good reason. Administering anesthesia entails giving the patient potent, potentially deadly drugs and requires the expertise of a separate, trained physician to attend to this and this only. Monitoring patient’s vital signs i.e., heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen levels are a critical part of the procedure and need constant attention. But suppose instead surgery in a hospital your young child requires a surgical dental procedure. Will your children be given the same anesthetic care in the dentist’s office that they get at a hospital? The answer is an unqualified no and as a result, children are dying.

When you take your youngster to the dentist for a procedure other than a routine checkup, the dentist will normally administer an oral sedative to your child in the form of a cocktail of drugs to drink that will make him/her more cooperative and at ease in the dental chair. The drugs in question are a combination of sedatives: the narcotic painkiller Demerol and two anti-anxiety drugs such as valium and hydroxyzine. The goal of these drugs is to create a state of “conscious sedation” in the patient and the child should continue to respond to commands and be able to breathe normally on their own. The critical questions at issue are: does the recommended dosage of this cocktail actually work to sedate children, relieve their anxiety and make them cooperative to the dental procedure, and second, do dentists knowingly administer a larger dosage than recommended to gain the child’s full cooperation? Also, how equipped are dental offices, some operating on a shoestring in a spare room or shopping mall, to deal with the potentially deadly effects of these potent anesthetics?

If during the dental procedure the cocktail of anesthetics appear to be inadequate and the patient starts to wake up, the dentist will administer numbing injections of novocaine and the sedative “laughing gas”. If vital sign monitors indicate low blood oxygen levels or increased heart rates, doctors are instructed to terminate the dental procedure and attend to the blood and heart rate issues. Many dentists, however, in a rush to finish the job, get paid, and stay on schedule for their next customer, ignore the vital sign sensors and push on. After most dental sedations the patient is given a few minutes to recover and is back to normal but occasionally the patient dies.

Medical malpractice and doctor negligence include dentists who cut corners in an attempt to make profits. If you have had a child or any other family member injured or killed by the medical malpractice of a dentist, you should speak to a responsible, knowledgeable and experienced dental malpractice lawyer. Call our law firm today.

Article and Image Credit: Original Dallas Morning News Deadly Denistry Series