On February 8, 2017, the Court of Appeals of Iowa (“Appellate Court”) affirmed the trial court’s granting summary judgment to the defendant orthodontist in a dental malpractice claim, finding that the Iowa dental malpractice plaintiff had failed to provide an expert opinion in support of her claims for dental malpractice, res ipsa loquitur, lack of informed consent, and medical battery.
The dental malpractice plaintiff had consulted with the defendant orthodontist in April 2010 regarding the misalignment of her teeth, for which dental surgery was recommended. The plaintiff consulted with multiple oral surgeons over the next two years before deciding on an oral surgeon to perform surgery on her upper and lower jaw. The plaintiff’s Iowa dental malpractice lawsuit alleged that the defendant orthodontist failed to properly prepare her for surgery, which resulted in an additional eleven months of orthodontic treatment with another orthodontist before she was able to undergo surgery.
More than a year after the plaintiff filed her dental malpractice lawsuit, the defendant orthodontist filed his motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to provide an expert opinion in support of her dental malpractice claims. Around the same time, the plaintiff’s dental malpractice attorney filed a motion to withdraw his appearance on behalf of the plaintiff in the case. The trial judge granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and also granted the plaintiff’s attorney’s motion to withdraw, and the plaintiff appealed.
The Appellate Court stated that generally, when the ordinary care of a physician is an issue, only experts can testify and establish the standard of care and the skill required. However, expert testimony may not be necessary if the physician’s lack of care is so obvious as to be within comprehension of a layman or if the physician injured a part of the body not involved in the treatment.
The Appellate Court stated that it agreed with the trial court that neither exception applied to the plaintiff’s dental malpractice claims in the case it was deciding and, therefore, without expert testimony, the plaintiff cannot establish the standard of care or a causal relationship between the defendant orthodontist’s actions and her allegations of harm.
The Appellate Court further held that an expert opinion was necessary for the plaintiff to establish her claims of res ipsa loquitur, lack of informed consent, and medical battery.
Lastly, the Appellate Court held that the plaintiff’s attorney’s withdrawal did not impact the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in light of the plaintiff’s failure to provide expert testimony to support her claim.
Source Daraba v. Sturdivant, No. 16-0343.
If you or a family member may be the victim of dental malpractice in Iowa or in another U.S. state, you should promptly consult with a dental malpractice attorney in Iowa or in your state who may investigate your dental malpractice claim for you and represent you in a dental malpractice case, if appropriate.
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