Legal costs hit dentists

The legal costs incurred, when dentists have to defend themselves against an allegation, are regularly outstripping the compensation received by patients, according to the Dental Defence Union (DDU).

Rupert Hoppenbrouwers, head of the DDU, the specialist dental division of the Medical Defence Union, said: ‘While the number of dental claims against our members is static, the average cost of indemnity payments we make on their behalf is increasing. The most significant factor in this has been the rise in legal costs which now regularly exceed the compensation received by the patient.’

The DDU has found that high legal costs tend to occur most with Conditional Fee Arrangements (CFAs) that represent more than 40% of dental claims.

This is partly because such cases tend to be more complex, with solicitors’ firms who specialise in dental claims, making allegations involving multiple treatments to many, or sometimes all of the claimant’s teeth going back many years.

Under the Conditional Fee Arrangement, patients do not have to pay their solicitor’s legal fees if the case is unsuccessful but where the case is successful, the solicitor can claim a success fee in addition to usual fees.

Mr Hoppenbrouwers questioned whether the process is fair and said: ‘It is important in the absence of legal aid for these cases that patients are able to have access to expert advice to help them to bring a claim if they think they have been negligently injured and that patients who have been avoidably harmed by clinical negligence should be fairly and promptly compensated.

‘However, a system that provides solicitors’ firms with rewards out of all proportion to the value of the claim cannot be right.’

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