After a dental procedure gone wrong, a West Virginia woman is suing her dentist for throat problems caused by a drill bit. Two years ago, Sally Neale visited Dr. David Bell’s office to have a front tooth removed. She claims that while she lay back for the procedure, she felt something slip down her throat that caused her to gag and choke. It turned out that the drill bit had come loose. Although Dr. Bell was allegedly aware of what went wrong, Neale claims that he and his assistant never offered her assistance or called 911.
Neale was able to breath following the incident, but she still needed to be transported to the hospital in an ambulance after feeling pain later that day. X-ray results showed that the drill bit was lodged in Neale’s intestines. Doctors gave Neale a prescription for Miralax and mineral oil and instructed her to repeatedly examine her fecal matter for any signs that the drill bit had passed. Neale made two more trips to the emergency room before it was determined that the drill bit had finally passed, six days after it first entered her system. However, Neale claims that as a result of the accident, she suffers from a sore throat and a raspy voice, and has more difficulty speaking than before. Neale allegedly had a procedure performed that found evidence of a small linear ulceration in her esophagus. Neale has hired a West Virginia personal injury attorney and is suing Dr. Bell for compensatory damages with pre- and post-judgment interest.
Compensatory damages are damages — otherwise known as money awarded by a jury — that provide a plaintiff with the specific amount necessary to replace what was lost and nothing more. In West Virginia, there is no statutory limit on economic damages, but there is on non-economic damages in medical malpractice actions. Non-economic damages in medical malpractice actions are limited to $250,000, though they can be raised to $500,000 under certain circumstances. The damages that Neale seeks would fall under the category of non-economic medical malpractice.
While on a superficial level, Neale’s situation might seem comical, it is a situation that no one wants to find himself or herself in. Going to the dentist is already something that countless people dread without having a dental procedure go awry. It is fortunate that Neale’s ensuing health problems were not worse than she alleges. If they were, and if the hospital doctors failed to accurately diagnose and treat them, Neale would have cause to sue the hospital doctors and staff for medical malpractice, as well as Dr. Bell. Neale would argue that the doctors had a duty of care to patients, which includes performing a reasonable amount of tests to determine the causes of her health problem. Doctors breached that duty by failing to order a test that would have revealed the problem, or by failing to make a proper diagnosis based on the test results. As a result, Neale’s problem only grew worse, and she suffered greater damage than she might have if doctors had ordered the right tests or diagnosed accurately. At this time, it is unknown whether Neale considers the hospital doctors to be negligent in any way or is contemplating action against them.