Sadly, the chances of receiving a claim are now higher than ever, after a significant rise in new claims in recent years.
Part of the reason is that when Conditional Fee Arrangements (otherwise known as 'no win, no fee') were scrapped in 2013, many solicitors rushed to take instruction from claimants before the changes took effect.
The DDU saw a 32% rise in new claims notifications during 2012 and a further 10% rise in 2013. This surge began to subside in the last quarter of 2013, but unfortunately the overall number of new dental claims has not.
It is clear that standards of dentistry have not fallen, so what are we doing to protect our members' reputations?
We will never settle a negligence claim for the sake of expediency. Not only is this a betrayal of our dentists-for-dentists ethos, but also it might encourage claims without merit
Most important is the fact that the DDU's experienced claims team will always try to mount a robust defence. We successfully defend over half of the dental claims made against our members. We will never settle a negligence claim for the sake of expediency. Not only is this a betrayal of our dentists-for-dentists ethos, but also it might encourage claims without merit.
However, as Sue N'Jie explains in this edition of the DDU Journal, there are features in some claims that can make it harder to build an effective defence. These 'litigation risks' include factual disputes which cannot be resolved by the records, expert opinion which is critical of the treatment provided, and the vulnerability of witnesses to hostile cross-examination. Ultimately, these clinical and legal factors may lead us to advise a member that it is in their interests for the case to be settled, although this step is only ever taken with the member's consent.
Litigation risk is an ever-present issue, but dental professionals can take steps to help themselves, most notably by keeping accurate and contemporaneous records, including telephone conversations and appointment histories. Dental professionals who have experienced a claim often remark that the process focused their attention on their approach to record keeping. For example, the need to avoid ambiguity in clinical records, particularly when it comes to the warnings and advice given to patients, is often the subject of disagreement during litigation.
Members can also protect themselves by ensuring that they have an effective and well publicised practice complaints procedure which investigates and tries to resolve patient grievances locally and speedily. A complainant who feels their concerns have been promptly acknowledged is less likely to escalate the matter.
Finally, if you are aware of a claim or even a hint of legal action or patient dissatisfaction, tell us straight away. As soon as you notify the DDU and send in the necessary documents, we can start preparing the best possible defence.