Teething Trouble With Factual Disputes

Author:Mr Tom Hayes and Rebecca Ryan

A recent case relating to alleged negligence on the part of a dentist highlights the difficulties when a case boils down to a simple factual dispute – who is more convincing, the patient or the dentist? A judge must ultimately decide. This situation arose in a recent case in the UK[1]. It related to the alleged negligent failure by a dentist, Mr Hughes, to refer for investigation a lesion in the lower left side of a patient's mouth. It was alleged that Mrs Drabble, the patient, should have been urgently referred following an examination on 30 June 2008. Following investigations, the patient underwent surgery in July 2009 to remove a tumour on the left floor of her mouth, extending into the lymph nodes. She underwent radiotherapy and chemotherapy and fortunately made a good recovery.

Factual Dispute

It was accepted by both parties that, had malignant changes been present in June 2008, then referral and treatment prior to November of that year would have meant less invasive and radical treatment. However, the case ultimately centred around the factual dispute between the patient and the dentist. The patient stated that she began to notice changes to a white patch in the lower left side of her mouth, which had been under observation by the dentist since 2004. The patient stated that she brought this to the dentist's attention on 30 June 2008, on which date he...

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