Our Houston readers have all heard about the awkward or unprofessional situations that can arise when people fail to separate their personal life from their professional life. Such situations don't usually involve people ending up without any teeth in their mouth, but one recent case in Poland did.
News sources are reporting that a Polish dentist, in an act of anger and revenge, removed all her ex-boyfriend's teeth during an appointment to treat a toothache, just days after their breakup. As a result of the incident, she is facing up to three years in jail, as well as an investigation for medical malpractice and abusing the trust of a patient.
The case is instructive on a number of levels, including the dangers of seeking medical care from an ex. Another interesting aspect of the story is the issue of whether the doctor's actions constituted medical malpractice. Technically, medical malpractice is an act or omission characterized by professional negligence, which by definition falls below the standard of care generally accepted by the medical community.
Medical malpractice laws vary by state, but generally require the establishment of four elements. The first is the standard of care according to which the doctor is to act or not act in the treatment of a patient. These are generally nationwide standards. The second element is that the doctor failed to act according to the standard of care. The basic issue in this element is whether a reasonable and prudent doctor would have made the same mistake in the same or a similar situation. The third element is that a real injury must have actually resulted, and the fourth is that the doctor's negligence was the legal cause of the injury.
It isn't clear whether the actions of the dentist in this story would fall within the definition of negligence. What happened here was certainly no error, but intentional, and this isn't the kind of case one would typically associate with medical malpractice. More often, medical malpractice claims result from doctors cutting corners, overlooking details, or taking unnecessary and unfair risks.
Whatever the case may be with respect to the medical malpractice investigation, the dentist's actions were tortious and constituted a serious violation of trust and professionalism, regardless of the personal problems that motivated them. It is a reminder, as well, of the ever-present possibility of lapses of judgment in medical professionals.
Source: 5 NBC Chicago, "Heartbroken Dentist Accused of Yanking Ex-Boyfriend's Teeth," Dominique Z. Scott, May 1, 2012.
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