Detailed Patient Notes Can Trigger the Statute of Limitations for a Dental Malpractice Claim

The dental attorneys at Nardone Limited in Columbus, Ohio regularly advise dentists on a variety of matters, including implementing proper procedures when providing care and treatment to patients, as well as providing advice on patient disputes. As an example, we are occasionally asked about the sufficiency of patient notes and the proper procedures for documenting patient visits. It is very important for dentists and dental practices to maintain detailed and thorough notes for every patient visit and interaction.

Every dentist knows that they are required to provide sufficient patient notes and charts for every patient. But, it is also extremely important to have detailed patient notes. Providing comprehensive patient notes and charts helps to clarify and evidence the standard of care received by a patient. Also, in a situation where there is a dental malpractice claim, or a potential for a dental malpractice claim, patient notes can also provide guidance regarding when the statute of limitations was triggered and when the patient was aware of a potential injury.

The One-Year Statute of Limitations
for a Dental Malpractice Claim

Generally, for a dentist, a patient must file a dental malpractice claim within one year after the cause of action accrues. O.R.C. 2305.133(A). The one-year statute of limitations period begins to run: (1) when the patient discovers, or in the exercise of reasonable care and diligence, should have discovered the alleged injury (i.e., the discovery rule) or (2) when the dentist-patient relationship for that condition terminates (i.e., the termination rule).

For the discovery rule, a cognizable event must occur, which puts the patient on notice that an injury related to the medical diagnosis, treatment, or procedure occurred. A cognizable event is an event that clearly shows that the patient suffered an injury. The discovery rule is based on when the patient has constructive knowledge of the facts relating to the malpractice, rather than actual knowledge of the injury. Thus, under the discovery rule, the limitations period begins when the patient becomes aware, or should have been aware, that an injury relating to the medical treatment occurred.

Under the termination rule, the statute of limitations begins to run from the last time the patient saw the dentist for treatment. Thus, the one-year limitation period begins when the patient last saw the dentist for treatment, or when the dentist requests a follow-up visit from the patient and the patient fails to return for the subsequent appointment.

As stated previously, under both the discovery rule and the termination rule, there is only a one-year statute of limitations for a patient to bring a malpractice action against a dentist. Having sufficient and detailed notes and charts for each patient will inevitably help to prove any standard of care issues for the treatment provided, and can also help to determine when the statute of limitations began to run.

The Need for Detailed Patient Notes and
How it Can Impact the Statute of Limitations for a Dental Malpractice Claim

Thorough and detailed patient notes can help to determine when the statute of limitations was triggered for a dental malpractice claim. Because patient notes can be used to determine the statute of limitations, dentists should keep a comprehensive record of the details for each patient visit, which includes information regarding why the patient is seeking treatment, the problems the patient is facing, and the potential diagnosis and treatment options. The dentist should also be sure to record as much detail as possible regarding the patient visit. This can include any and all statements made by the patient, regardless of whether the dentist believes the statements are relevant to the treatment. Examples for details to record are statements regarding the patient’s general complaints or any allegation or threat of a possible malpractice claim against the dentist or other treatment providers. Indicating that a patient is complaining about the treatment can help to determine when the statute of limitations begins to run as this shows the patient’s awareness of their injury. As stated previously, under the discovery rule, the patient has to be on notice, or aware, that there is a problem or a potential injury related to the medical treatment. Thus, a detailed patient note indicating that the patient is complaining of an injury or threatening malpractice, will trigger the discovery rule and the statute of limitations period.

Contact Nardone Limited

The dental attorneys at Nardone Limited can provide education and training to you and your staff regarding the policies and procedures that should be implemented when charting and documenting patient notes. We also specialize in representing dentists in a variety of areas, which includes representing dentists in patient disputes, and in administrative proceedings in front of the dental board. Contact Nardone Limited for more information related to our representation in matters affecting our dental clients.