Dental Malpractice - Wisdom Teeth Removal
The information presented on this site is of personal opinion and consequently is slanted and biased and not based on proper scientific research. The information presented is NOT written by a dental expert. Further the information presented has NOT been subjected to peer review by experts to verify accuracy and data integrity.
A study in 2003 on lingual nerve litigation looked at 26 cases of a person suing after a tooth extraction in 12 different states in the U.S. between 1987 and 2000. Roughly 13 or half of these cases were victories by the person suing the surgeon and the average won was $306,737. 
The likelyhood for legal action to be pursued after wisdom teeth removal is greater if complications occur when no symptoms of disease or problems were present before surgery. 
OMSNIC, which is a liability insurance company that insures over 80% of all oral and maxillofacial surgeons in the U.S., stated in it's 2009, 2010, and 2011 Annual Report and in the October 2013 issue of the Monitor that a large number of claims were taken to trial (patients suing) and that over 90%, 97%, 93%, 94% respectively, had verdicts in favor of the oral and maxillofacial surgeons. [26, 34, 42, 44] Similar numbers apply to other physicians in the U.S. where in 1 study showed nearly 90% of claims had verdicts in favor of the physicians.  In the case of OMSNIC about 78% of claims (patients suing) are denied (no malpractice occured). Twelve percent (12%) of the claims that are not denied are eventually settled (no trial). The other 10% of claims that reach trial were over 90% of the time found to be in favor of the surgeons (as stated above). 
Below are some selected excerpts of cases and settlements following wisdom teeth removal in favor of the patient. Please do not sue without merit as it doesn't help the rest of us. Note that this sample of dental malpractice suits may not be at all representative of dental malpractice suits in the entire population.
An attorney won $12 million for the family of a man who died in 2005, after after having his wisdom teeth removed. However, note that the man had a known immunity disorder (hereditary angioedema). 
A man was awarded $9.8 milllion in 2012, in New York, after having a wisdom tooth extracted. The man suffered extensive oral nerve damage, chronic pain, a fractured jaw, memory loss, migraines, permanent loss of taste, fear, anxiety, and depression. 
A woman was awarded $5 million in 2002 after suffering complications from wisdom teeth removal. She experienced nerve damage, TMJ problems, and pain. This lead her to take pain medications which caused an impacted bowel and subsequently required surgery to remove 2/3 of her colon, a large part of her small intestine, and her reproductive organs. 
An attorney won a $3 million settlement in January 2011 for the family of a teenage boy. The city in Kansas where the surgery occured also awarded the young man a $50,000 settlement. He suffered brain damage and lasting neurological problems due to nitrous oxide and oxygen lines being switched while having 4 wisdom teeth removed in March 2009. [19, 23]
The families of of three women who died during 1982 and 1983 under the hands of the same dentist along with 10 other former patients who suffered chronic problems such as nerve damage, were awarded over $2 million in damages. 
An attorney reported on and potentially won $1.5 million verdict for a client who had the lingual nerve damaged during a wisdom tooth extraction. This left the client with permanent numbness of the half of the jaw, constant biting of the tongue, and drooling. 
A woman was awarded a $1 million settlement when her son died in 1993, after having his four wisdom teeth extracted. 
A lawyer won just under $1 million, in New York, for a young school teacher who had her lingual nerve severed after a lower wisdom tooth extraction. This resulted in loss of sensation, loss of taste to part of the tongue, and permanent pain. 
A lawyer won $894,305, in California, for a right lingual nerve severed from a careless lower wisdom tooth extraction. This resulted in permanent numbness to the right half of tongue and taste alteration to a 32 year old courier. A California state law known as (MICRA) the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act states that $250,000 is the maximum amount allowed for pain and suffering caused by a doctor thus the sum was lowered to $250,000. [4, 31]
A man was awarded $751,816.37, in Wyoming in 1988, as a result of toxic poisoning which led to brain damage due to an overdose of atropine taken prior to having his wisdom teeth removed. The dentist failed to call Poision Control and tell the man and his mother he had been given a toxic overdose for over 24 hours after the extractions. 
A lawyer won $750,000, in Virgina, for lingual nerves that were severed from careless lower wisdom tooth extractions. This resulted in permanent tongue numbness and taste alteration to a 37 year old Maryland police officer. 
A lawyer won $250,000 for past pain and suffering and $500,000 for future pain and suffering, in New York, on behalf of woman who suffered permanent paresthesia, and numbness on her lip and chin due to inferior alveolar nerve damage. [24, 25]
A lawyer won $680,000 in Missouri, for a woman. She had four wisdom teeth removed and then experienced "jaw pain, facial pain, gritting and popping in both jaw joints, inability to open her mouth, numbness in her lower jaw, lip and gums, ringing in the ear, dizziness, headaches, earaches, and throat and neck pain". She suffered damaged lingual nerves and mandibular nerves bilaterally and damage to her temporomandibular joints bilaterally. Her husband was also awarded $35,000. 
A lawyer won a $655,000 verdict California. The oral surgeon who removed his client's wisdom teeth cut the lingual nerve and caused permanent loss of taste and sensation to one-half of the tongue. Due to California law the man only recieved $250,000 for his suffering. 
A lawyer won won $615,00 when both lingual nerves were severed during lower wisdom tooth extraction of a food market employee. 
A lawyer won $602,506 for a right lingual nerve severed from careless a lower wisdom tooth extraction. This resulted in permanent numbness to the right half of the tongue and taste alteration to a 30 year old graphic designer. 
A lawyer won a $600,000 verdict, in Oregon, for injury to her client's lingual nerve from a lower right wisdom tooth extraction in June 2006. The client was left with numbness and shooting, burning pain, a tingling sensation, a throbbing pain in the tongue, numb gums on the right side of the mouth, and the inability to distinguish hot from cold. 
An attorney, won a total of $503,923.59 for a woman that had her lingual nerve bilateraly severed and a dental burr (drill bit) left in her mouth during extraction of her wisdom teeth. She had two subsequent operations to attempt to repair her lingual nerve. She suffered from depression, pain, and anxiety and was unable to eat, sleep or open her mouth for weeks after the surgery and could not speak correctly for months despite having a job that required her to make presentations. She has no taste, cannot tell hot from cold, and has had to avoid many foods because, in trying to chew them, she cannot feel when she bites her tongue. When she gets tired she has a hard time enunciating words, and she bites her tongue and does not know it, causing blood to pool in her mouth. The broken burr remains in her mouth. 
A 36 year old woman was awarded an out of court settlement that was reduced to $500,000 by the state of Indiana (due to Indiana law at the time - settlement given likely sometime in 1980s), due to having been given an overdose of anesthesia when having her wisdom teeth removed that left her with permanent brain damage and unable to care for herself. 
A 35 year old won a $500,000 verdict, in New Jersey, who suffered from extreme pain and loss of sensation/paresthesia on the left side of his tongue and on his right lower lip and chin while having lower wisdom teeth removed. Both his right inferior alveolar nerve and left lingual nerve were transected. He suffered permanent numbness on the left side of his tongue which left him witthout a sense of taste on the left side and made it difficult to chew food without biting his tongue. He had to give up eating some of his favorite foods because they were too difficult to eat and became embarassed to eat in public. 
A lawyer won a $500,000 verdict, in New York, on behalf of a 35-year old computer consultant, who sustained a permanently numb lip, chin and tongue following his wisdom teeth removal. 
A lawyer won $500,000, in New York, for a 31 year old man who was left with parmanent paraesthesia of the left side of his tongue due to lingual nerve damage after the extraction of a lower left wisdom tooth. 
A lawyer won $350,000 for a young woman whose lingual nerve was damaged while a wisdom tooth was removed. 
A lawyer reported on and potenially won a $325,000 verdict in California for a client who was left with difficulty in speaking and no sensation on most of her tongue, the floor of her mouth, and the inside of her gums due to a severed lingual nerve. The client says when she is eating she has to sprinkle broken potato chips on her food so that she can hear when to swallow. Due to California law the sum was lowered to $250,000. 
A lawyer reported on and potentially won $275,000 for a client whose right lingual nerve was severed. This left the client with numbness in the gums and on the right side of the tongue and lower jaw. 
A lawyer won $261,000, in California, for a right lingual nerve that was severed from a lower wisdom tooth extraction. This caused permanent taste loss to part of the tongue and loss of sensation. Due to California law the sum was lowered to $250,000. 
A lawyer won $258,968 for a 30 year old man whose lingual nerve was severed while his wisdom tooth was extracted. 
A lawyer reported on and potenially won $257,334 and $2,000 for loss of consortium to the client's husband for a client who had permanent anesthesia of the tongue and floor of the mouth and facial pain due to negligent extraction of wisdom teeth. Both lower wisdom teeth were extracted and both the left and right lingual nerves were severed. The client further was caused to have slurred speech and constantly bites his tongue. 
A lawyer won $250,000 for a young woman whose lingual nerve was severed while having her wisdom tooth extracted. 
A lawyer won $250,000, in Connecticut, in a settlement for severed lingual and inferior alveolar nerves during wisdom teeth removal for a 39 year old credit analyst. This left the client with constant shooting pains and numbness. 
A lawyer won $250,000 for a severed lingual nerve from wisdom tooth extraction. This resulted in permanent numbness and taste alteration to the right half of the tongue for a 24 year old mortgage broker. 
A lawyer won $250,000, in New York, for a 70 year old woman who had nerve injury after the extraction of a lower right wisdom tooth. The client was left with numbness, loss of taste and burning on the right side of her tongue. 
A lawyer won $225,000 in New York, for a 29 year old woman who had nerve injury during the extraction of a wisdom tooth. The injury caused her pain and numbness on the left side of her tongue, chin, and lip. 
A lawyer reported on and potentially won $200,000 for a client whose lingual nerve was severed and whose chart was altered. 
An attorney won $200,000 in New York, for a 26 year old woman who was left wtith nerve damage after having wisdom teeth extracted. This left the woman with no taste and numbness on the side of the tongue. 
A lawyer reported on and potenially won $150,000.00 for a client and his wife received $50,000.00 for loss of consortium (disruption of marriage relationship caused by the injury). The client's jaw was fractured, along with permanent nerve injury, leaving the client with no feeling in his lower lip. The injury affected the client's appearance, and ability to speak, drink and eat. 
A lawyer won $150,000 for a left lingual nerve injury from a lower wisdom tooth extraction to a 23 year old mountaineer. 
A lawyer reported on and potentially won $150,000 for a client who had a general dentist extract a lower right wisdom tooth which was thought to be a soft-tissue impaction but was a bony impaction. Informed consent was also not given. 
A lawyer won $140,000.00, in Florida, for a 36 year old office worker for numb tongue following a wisdom tooth extraction. 
A man won $138,669.50, in New Jersey, whose lingual nerve was severed following wisdom teeth removal. He suffered from drooling, biting of his tongue, difficulty speaking, and difficulty eating. 
A lawyer was awarded $130,000, in New York, on behalf of a woman who sustained a third degree burn to her face when the hot tip of the dental drill inadvertently brushed her face while she was under anaesthesia when having her wisdom teeth removed. 
A lawyer won $125,000 for a right lingual nerve injury from a lower wisdom tooth extraction to a 32 year old glass company owner. 
A lawyer won $96,250, in Florida for a 24 year old woman for permanent lingual nerve paresthesia following wisdom teeth removal. The woman had a massive subcutaneous emphysema develop from the use of a high-speed air turbine handpiece to drill away bone. The dentist and nurse anesthetist placed frozen green peas in a futile effort to reduce the woman's swelling. 
A lawyer won $95,000, in Texas, for a 27 year old man who had a CT scan 2 days after having four impacted wisdom teeth removed which showed multiple fractures of his left mandible. In addition, one of the wisdom teeth retracted into his sinus cavity instead of being removed and required later removal. 
A 13 year old boy was awarded $95,000, in California, in a settlement after the doctor mistakenly extracted two permanent teeth instead of two wisdom teeth. 
A man was awarded $52,500, in Washington, in 2003, as the result of numbness in the area of his jaw, chin, and lip, which was caused by "negative exploration". He had three impacted wisdom teeth that were being removed when the surgeon mistakenly drilled in the back of his mouth on the lower left side (instead of the right) in the location where a wisdom tooth (#17) would lie but the man only had 3 impacted wisdom teeth and not one on the lower left side but one on the lower right side. 
A lawyer won $54,000, in Florida for a 21 college student with nerve injury after wisdom tooth surgery. 
A lawyer won $45,000, in Louisiana, for a woman who had a lower right wisdom tooth that had been causing her pain removed. She was left with a hyperextension injury to her TMJ and/or anterior disc displacement and lasting pain and discomfort. The oral surgeon was found to have breached the standard of care by failing to obtain informed consent and not preparing an operative report. 
The parents of a young man who died after having 2 wisdom teeth extracted were awarded $28,000; however, note this occured in 1970. 
A law group won a $20,000 settlement for a 29 year old IRS secretary who went to a teaching hospital to have 2 lower wisdom teeth removed and signed a consent form to only have the lower wisdom teeth removed at the time. While she was under general anesthesia both the two lower wisdom teeth and the two upper wisdom teeth were extracted. 
There are 49 cases listed above where someone undergoing wisdom teeth removal and/or their family won/received a monetary amount as a result of damages.
For those interested in statistics the mean of the monetary amount won for the cases described above is $996,148 with 95% confidence interval ($352,843, $1,639,454) The standard deviation is $2,239,659 with a 95% confidence interval ($1,867,699, $2,798,003). 1st Quartile (Q1) is $145,000 the median is $275,000 with 95% confidence interval ($230,361, $503,082), and 3rd Quartile (Q3) is $732,500. Note these statistics are for the award/settlement before any potential reduction due to a non-economic damage cap being in place by the U.S. state.
These numbers are all nominal and thus do not account for inflation. Proper analysis should convert all past monetary awards to the present, although this is not fully possible since the dates are unknown (by this websites owner) in many of the cases. For example, the $28,000 award to the parents of the young man who died in 1970 has an equivalent value of $168,973.51 today (Oct. 2013) by using the U.S. Consumer Price Index (specifically the average of the All Urban Consumers CPI-U in 1970 compared to the CPI-U in October 2013). [30, 33] This means that $1.00 (one dollar) today (Oct. 2013) has the roughly same buying power as $0.165 (16.5 cents) in 1970. Hence the $28,000 award to the parents of the young man in 1970 is actually worth $4,639.78 in today's (Oct. 2013) dollars.
To put this in even better perspective we can imagine the parents of the young man in 1970 decided to invest (for instance in stocks, bonds, CDs) all of the monetary award and thus not spend any of it. Using the Future Value formula for compound interest FV = PV * (1 + i ) ^ t, (while pretending the present is 1970 - I know not the typical use of this formula but we need to convert from the past to the present), for our given future value FV=$168,973.51 (Oct. 2013), present value PV=$28,000 (1970), and time t=43 (years), we solve for i our interest rate and find that this requires an annual rate of return of roughly 4.2689% (i= 0.042689). Hence this means that the parents of young man in 1970 would have had to achieve an annual nominal rate of return of 4.2689% for the award they received by investing just to break even today (Oct. 2013).
Below shows a boxplot for the monetary amount awarded in the dental malpractice cases described above (again nominal dollar amount). There are clear outliers in this data; and hence, the outliers should be removed to give a better estimate of the mean. In this case the median is a much more appropriate number to look at than the mean. All statistics and figures are generated with Minitab 16 and IBM SPSS Statistics 19.
This photo is from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ciana13/2090056809/ and has a Creative Commons license.
Updated November 9, 2013
Note, the above references were accessed different times between 2008 and January, 27, 2011. The content may have changed from what is available today.
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