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What is causation and how does it affect your dental negligence claim?

Here at Thorneycroft Solicitors, our dental negligence team aim to advise people who inquire about pursuing a possible dental negligence claim.

We deal with a variety of cases ranging from misdiagnosis to cases of improper practice by dental practitioners.

We aim to help those who suffer after experiencing poor treatment at the hands of a dental practitioner, listening to their story and assessing whether or not they are eligible to make a claim for compensation.

In a perfect world we would be able to help everyone who has experienced poor dental treatment, but sadly this is not the case.

There are many reasons as to why we may be unable to assist with a claim, but one of the most common reasons is to do with proof and evidence.

What do you need to prove to make a dental negligence claim?

As with any clinical negligence claim, in order to succeed with a dental negligence claim, you must essentially pass a two-stage test.

The first stage of the test is to prove that the treatment a person received fell beneath an acceptable or ‘reasonable’ standard.

A ‘reasonable’ standard refers to the dental practitioner’s duty of care. It must be proven that another dental practitioner practising in the relevant field at the relevant time would not have acted in the same way in order for your claim to succeed.

However, it is worth noting that what is deemed ‘reasonable’ can vary on a case by case basis.

The second stage of the test can prove more difficult. It relates to the issue of causation.

Causation is a legal concept that requires the claimant to prove that the dental negligence caused the injury or the negligent treatment adversely changed the outcome for the individual.

If this can’t be proven then the claim will not succeed.

The test that is employed in order to prove causation in negligence cases is the ‘but-for’ test.

Simply put, the test asks the question, ‘has the negligence made a difference to the outcome?’ Or, ‘but-for’ the dental practitioner being negligent, would the injury have occurred?

Whilst the ‘but-for’ test and the test for causation will be relevant in the majority of both dental and medical negligence claims, sometimes it can be the case that medical science cannot determine whether or not negligence caused a specific injury or outcome.

In those cases, the authorities look at whether the negligent act made a significant contribution to the negative outcome for the claimant.

Difficulties in establishing causation

Causation can often be difficult to establish given the reasons outlined above.

It must be proven that the negligence caused an injury. The risk of injury is not enough.

A good example of how causation works is as follows:

A person has a temporary filling fitted. The temporary filling is left in longer than the recommended period of time.

However, when the dentist takes out the filling, no damage has been caused to the root of the tooth or any other part of the mouth.

In this case, the dentist did act negligently, and a reasonable dental practitioner may not have acted in the same way, however, no injury was sustained – there was only a risk of an injury and so it is not possible to prove causation and therefore the claim would not succeed.

Our advice

We understand that the law surrounding clinical negligence and dental treatment can be extremely difficult to comprehend and that for some it can be overwhelming.

If you believe you have a potential dental negligence claim we are happy to help.

We provide a free initial interview to assess your claim and gather the relevant details for your case.

Our expert dental negligence team will then work with you every step of the way to help get you the compensation you deserve.

If you would like to book an initial interview with one of our solicitors or would like more information about how we can help, call us for free today on 0800 1979 345 or complete our online enquiry form and we will call you back at a time that is more suitable for you.