Cancer with No Surgery, Or Surgery with No Cancer? Dental Malpractice Horror Stories
Along with clowns and spiders, dentists terrify most Americans. Most of us will quietly tolerate various solutions, injections, and surgeries to other parts of our bodies, yet the moment our sensitive teeth enter the equation, the fear factor shoots through the roof. If you’re one of the many who are already nervous about tooth care, you may want to duck out of reading this blog post while you still have the chance — because in this entry, we’ll be looking at some devastating cases of dental malpractice.
Researchers at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine estimate up to 15% of Americans live with an intense phobia of the visiting the dreaded dentist’s office. Of course, avoiding the dentist only leads to further pain and decay, and personal phobias should never be permitted to interfere with physical health — but nonetheless, it’s quite easy to see how such debilitating fears could develop when you consider these horrifying cases…
Surgery, But No Cancer…
99.9% of the time, being told you actually don’t have cancer is the world’s greatest news. But when Kim Tutt was informed her “cancer” had never existed, her feelings of relief were tempered by rage.
In 2000, Tutt made what she thought would be a normal visit to her dentist. Instead, she was told routine x-ray scans had revealed a cancerous mass on her jawbone.
“I was a 34-year-old healthy person, so everybody was shocked. I was given three to six months to live,” Tutt remembers. “The doctors thought they might be able to give me three more months if they removed the left side of my chin all the way to behind my right ear and replaced it with the fibula from my leg.”
In Tutt’s own words, it was “a huge, enormously radical surgery.” But she was a mother of two young children, and wanted to preserve every moment she could. She agreed to the procedure, desperate to stave off the cancer by any means necessary — even if facial disfigurement was the cost.
But just a few months later, Tutt received a phone call.
Her “cancer” had been a figment of a lab mix-up all along.
“It was one of those things where I should have been the happiest person in the world. But it was overwhelming,” Tutt says. “I am permanently disfigured. I’ve undergone five surgeries. I’m still missing nine teeth. Chewing is not easy. People notice that I’m not normal — that really, really bothers the boys.”
Tutt describes herself as a “survivor of medical malpractice.”
…And Cancer, But No Surgery
Tutt has a mirror image.
In November of 2004, Fresno, California resident Elina Vue was in an appointment with her dentist, Dr. Su Nhia Ying Vang. During that appointment, the first image of a tumor in Vue’s jaw — this time, a very real tumor — appeared on Vue’s x-rays.
Another 12 appointments would be made over nearly two years to come, with visits continuing well into 2006. These visits addressed a myriad of dental problems ranging from cavities to extractions to root canals — but despite the numerous visits, diverse procedures, and countless x-rays, Dr. Vang repeatedly failed to notice the tumor which was growing on Vue’s jaw all the while.
By the time Vue finally consulted with an oral surgeon in the summer of 2006, the cancer had advanced to the point of necessitating complete removal of her left jaw. Vue received an artificial replacement to help repair some of the facial disfigurement, but the physical, emotional, and financial damage was already done.
Vue says the incident caused her to spiral into a deep depression, and she subsequently filed a lawsuit seeking $3 million in damages.
Jeff Bohn, Vue’s attorney, is critical of his client’s dentist. “The swelling grew from the size of a grape to the size of a walnut,” he stated, adding, “Dr. Vang either misreads the X-rays or does not know how to read X-rays.”
In England, 58-year-old Paula Drabble went through a similar cycle, filing a claim against dentist Ian Hughes after stating he failed to notice and treat a cancerous white lesion along her gums. In April of 2009, Hughes referred Drabble to a hospital for care of a “seriously invasive [oral] cancer.” Fortunately for Drabble, the cancer was contained and removed before it could spread — but she alleged Hughes should have noticed it earlier.
In Drabble’s case, Hughes ultimately prevailed in court.
“There was no significant change in the appearance of the white patch either in June 2008 or at any of the further examinations conducted by Mr Hughes in 2008 and 2009 which warranted an urgent referral,” Judge Derek Sweeting ruled. “It follows that I dismiss the claim and enter judgment for Mr Hughes.”
Elina Vue had better luck, at least in terms of compensation. Unlike her British counterpart, Vue won her case, and was awarded damages exceeding $825,000.
Vue’s attorney writes of the case, “Dr. Vang failed to do ANY clinical testing or exams on Ms. Vue when he suspected a distal apex radiolucency to tooth #18 and then failed to follow up for an additional 7 months.” Bohn also writes, “[He] admitted that he did not know what a tumor looked like on a radio graph.”
Bohn was also critical of the climate which enabled Dr. Vang to continue practicing. “Dr. Vang repeatedly violated the ‘safety rules’ of dentistry. Unbeknownst to the jury, Dr. Vang was charged with 28 cases of negligence and gross negligence in 2004 to the Dental Board of California. This case is the poster child for how the Boards protect their… incompetent members rather than enforce their own safety rules.”
If you or someone you love has been hurt by dental malpractice or medical negligence, an experienced attorney can help you pursue justice for the damages against you. To schedule a free, private legal consultation, call New Jersey personal injury lawyer Joseph Lombardo at (609) 445-4300, or contact us online today.