How much is my dental claim worth? Part 1-General damages

As a specialist dental negligence solicitor I am often asked about how much a particular dental claim is worth.

It is worth pointing out that only once all the evidence has been acquired can a proper assessment of damages be made, usually at the pre action protocol letter of claim stage.

Going back to basics, there are two heads of damage. General damages for pain and suffering along with loss of amenity which will include loss or damage to teeth; and Special damages better known as out-of-pocket expenses.

This article concentrates upon how general damages are assessed in a dental negligence claim to give the reader an idea about how much their dental claim is worth.

The Judicial College Guidelines (JCG) now constitutes a well-established and authoritative work on the levels of general damages in personal injury cases including dental negligence. It certainly is the first port of call for most judges and practitioners when they have to assess general damages in dental claims.

Lord Donaldson in the forward to the first edition of the JCG states that paradoxical as it may seem one of the commonest tasks of a Judge sitting in a civil court is also one of the most difficult -this is the assessment of general damages for pain suffering or loss of the amenities of life. Since no monetary award can compensate in a real sense, these damages cannot be assessed by a process of calculation. Yet whilst no two cases are ever precisely the same, justice requires that there be consistency between awards of general damages in dental claims.

The Judicial Studies Board originally set up a working party to prepare guidelines for the assessment of general damages in personal injury cases, and whilst most judges will turn to the judicial college guidelines to assess how much a dental claim is worth, it is not intended to be a “ready reckoner” or in any way to fetter the individual judgement which must be bought to bear upon the unique features of each particular dental case.

How much your dental claim may be worth is dependent upon a number of factors; the loss or damage to teeth is contained in the assessment of facial injuries within the JCG and the assessment of general damages for facial injuries is an extremely difficult task as there is three elements which complicate the award;

Firstly whilst in most cases the injuries described are skeletal, many of them may involve an element of disfigurement or at least some cosmetic effect. Secondly in cases where there is a cosmetic element the courts have drawn a distinction between awards made to males and females -the latter attracting higher awards; and thirdly in cases of dental disfigurement there may also be severe psychological reactions which put the total award at the top of the brackets or even above it all together.

Damage to teeth the most common awards

In these cases there will generally have been a course of dental treatment as a result of the initial injury and the amounts awarded will vary according to the extent and the degree of discomfort of such treatment, any difficulty with eating may increase the award and these cases may overlap with fractures of the jaw, meriting awards in the brackets for such fractures. Awards may be greater where the damage results in or was caused by protracted dental treatment.

The JCG brackets for damages in dental claims (13th Edition)

  • Significant chronic tooth pain such as from an untreated abscess extending over a number of years together with significant general deterioration in the overall condition of teeth is worth up to £31,900

  • The loss of or serious damage to several front teeth is worth between £7320-£9540

  • The loss of or serious damage to two front teeth is worth between £3630 and £6380

  • The loss of or serious damage to one front tooth is worth between £1840-£3300

  • The loss of or damage to back teeth per tooth is worth between £910 and £1430.

One area which is relatively difficult to quantify in a dental claim is that of periodontal disease or gum disease claims in which a number of teeth may have been lost along with supporting bone underneath the teeth as there was previously no category for this type of dental claim. This type of claim would now of course fall under the significant chronic tooth pain extending over a number of years with significant general deterioration in the overall condition of teeth bracket.

Another tricky area to quantify in a dental claim is that of nerve damage. Either facial or lingual nerve damage which may have occurred as a result of negligent dental treatment. Most awards for nerve damage overlap with the JCG bracket for “fracture of the jaw” since there is no specific bracket for such a nerve injury.

We must not forget that the above figures for assessing how much a dental claim is worth are a guideline (not a tramline) and each dental case must be treated individually upon its own merit.

The way forward?

The author has previously advocated an easier system for assessing loss of individual teeth based upon the FDI tooth notation system. Basically the closer to the front of the mouth a tooth is damaged or lost the more it should be worth, as is the case now, but ideally each tooth could easily be given a value for its damage or loss in a dental claim.

I will discuss in Part 2 the concept of Special damages in dental claims.

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