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New York Appellate Division Says Triable Issue of Fact Precluded Summary Judgment in Dental Malpractice Case

Healthcare professionals make mistakes just like the rest of us do. Sometimes, these errors are harmless, and other times they result in great physical harm and, tragically, even death.

When a medical provider’s mistake causes personal injury or death, the patient or his or her family has the right to pursue a Syracuse medical malpractice lawsuit. If there is a preponderance of evidence in the plaintiff’s favor, he or she can recover a judgment for medical expenses, lost earnings, pain and suffering and other damages.

One of the most important steps in a professional negligence case is the retention of an expert witness. Without a well-qualified expert who is willing to review the plaintiff’s case and render an opinion as to whether the defendant breached the standard of care, the plaintiff will not be able to succeed at trial.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case appealed from the Supreme Court of Queens County, the plaintiff was a former patient of the defendant dentist. The plaintiff filed suit, seeking to recover monetary compensation for the defendant’s alleged dental malpractice, specifically the defendant’s failure to diagnose the plaintiff with a rare bacterial infection known as actinomycosis. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, he was not properly diagnosed until some five months after he had initially gone to the defendant for treatment. By that time, the plaintiff had begun seeing a different dental provider (an oral/maxillofacial surgeon who was not a party to the lawsuit).

In response to the plaintiff’s complaint for the defendant’s negligent assessment and treatment of his condition, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. According to the defendant’s view of the case, there were no genuine issues of material fact between the parties and thus dismissal was appropriate. The trial court agreed and granted the defendant’s request for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed, seeking review of the trial court’s decision in the appellate tribunal.

The Reviewing Court’s Opinion

The Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department, reversed the lower court’s order in favor of the defendant. In the lower court, the judge had found that the defendant was entitled to summary judgment because the plaintiff’s expert witness has not qualified to render an opinion regarding the standard of care for the plaintiff’s treatment. In disagreeing with this result, the appellate division pointed out that the defendant’s expert had based his opinion on both a reasonable degree of dental certainty and a reasonable degree of maxillofacial surgery; he did not differentiate which of his opinions were based on which type of certainty.

When the plaintiff’s expert rendered his affirmation in opposition to the defendant’s expert, the plaintiff’s expert had sufficiently demonstrated his qualifications to opine about the standard of care, in the reviewing court’s opinion. Thus, triable issues of fact remained regarding whether or not the defendant had breached the applicable standard of care, such that summary judgment was inappropriate. While the two experts were not necessarily equal in skill or expertise, any lack therein was to go to the weight of that expert’s opinion when it was considered by the jury. It did not affect the admissibility of the expert’s affirmation or testimony.

Schedule an Appointment to Speak with a Syracuse Attorney

At the Syracuse-based law firm of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP, we regularly represent individuals who have suffered serious injuries due to a medical provider’s failure to properly diagnose, monitor, or treat a condition. For a free consultation about your situation, call us at 315-479-9000. We can travel to you if necessary, so please do not delay in speaking with counsel about your potential claim. There are strict time limits in medical negligence cases, and a delay could result in your case being dismissed.

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