India Beason explains the steps to take and what to remember when receiving a solicitor’s letter.
There can be little more distressing than to receive a letter from a solicitor. They invariably appear unpleasant with words such as ‘allege’ and ‘negligence’ liberally scattered through the text. A dentist may expect to receive, on average, one or perhaps two claims in a full practising lifetime. Many dentists go through a whole career and never experience a claim. Others may receive several.
Of course, many of the claims fail because dentists provide treatment of high quality and produce dental records that meet the standards prescribed.
But, unfortunately, in many cases, dentists don’t meet the standards. Remember the old adage; if it isn’t in the mouth, it’s on the X-rays or in the notes. In many cases an examination or a review of radiographs quickly shows that the work undertaken was not satisfactory.
Everyone should understand the nature of a solicitor’s correspondence. Not every letter received results in a claim.
Request for records
The first indication of the possibility of a claim may be a request for a copy of the dental records, radiographs, etc. This does not inevitably mean a claim will follow. At this stage a solicitor will only have received an account from the patient alleging dental failings. Once a solicitor’s dental expert or adviser reviews the records, it may well show that you did the work appropriately. You will head nothing further. An estimate of only three in 10 note requests, follow up with allegations.
Letter before claim
Sometimes a letter notifies the dentist that the solicitor is investigating a matter but they are not ready to make specific allegations. The letter usually advises the dentist to notify the defence organisation. It is important that notification occurs. At this stage the defence organisation may well wish to investigate the allegations.
Letter of claim
This letter lays out the history of treatment provided and the allegations made, where negligence is claimed, a schedule of remedial treatment and the costs claimed, together with compensation for distress and inconvenience.
At this stage the insurer’s claims team will take over the management of the case. Densura policyholders will work with the dentolegal adviser and claims handler to formulate a defence in cases where treatment was done well. Here, you can rebut the claim. It is important to remember that not every claim is successful and 30-40% are successfully defended.
If you receive a solicitor’s letter remember the following:
- Don’t panic. If they request notes, ensure that you find everything required. Send it in a timely manner to the solicitor, in any event within 30 days. Notify your defence organisation of the request
- Write a full and detailed report for the defence organisation, if you know what the allegation will be. Even if a claim is lodged it may be a year or more before it is received
- If there is a notification of claim, the defence adviser and claimant solicitor’s representative review the treatment, notes, X-rays and any photographs.
- If the allegation is without merit, it will be rebutted for any Densura policyholder
- Clear evidence of negligence, means that you can settle the matter as quickly as possible.
It is very rare for any negligence case to proceed to a formal hearing. Virtually all are resolved, either by withdrawal of the claim or by settlement by the dentist’s defence solicitor.
We can assure that any Densura policyholder’s allegations will be vigorously handled and rebutted if without foundation. Or, settled quickly with minimal inconvenience if negligence did occur.
This article is supported by an educational grant from Densura, a bespoke indemnity scheme originally designed for dentists working in corporates but now available to all dentists in practice in the UK. For more information, visit densura.com.