In this article, we cover California Dental Board complaints about dental malpractice, negligence, and improper advertising and how to sue a dentist in small claims.
Can I sue a dentist for bad dental work? Can I sue a dentist for not performing a service that I contracted? If a dentist did a procedure that you did not approve, did not perform the services you paid for, or the work they did caused an unexpected injury you may want to consider what legal options you may have after your visit. These options include filing a California small claims lawsuit or filing a California Dental Board complaint against the dentist. Suing a dentist in California small claims court or filing a complaint might seem like a complicated process but in this article, we break down your options into easy-to-follow steps!
Here is an overview:
- What are common complaints against dentists?
- California Dental Board Complaints.
- How much you can sue a dentist for in California small claims?
- How much does suing a dentist in small claims cost?
- What are the steps to suing a dentist in a California small claims court?
- What are small claims hearing like?
- Preparing to file a California small claims lawsuit against a dentist.
Reasons to sue a dentist
Below are some possible reasons to sue your dentist:
- You paid a deposit to a dentist but the procedure never occurred and the deposit was not returned to you.
- You paid for a service like a root canal and the service was not performed.
- Dentist performed a procedure that you didn’t approve of.
- The dentist was negligent when performing a root canal or other procedure.
Unfortunately, you may not be able to find a dental malpractice lawyer who will take your case if you don’t have a serious injury. This is because dental malpractice lawyers will usually take a case on a contingency which means that they receive a percentage of the amount you settle for or win at trial. If a dental practice lawyer doesn’t agree to represent you, don’t be discouraged as you may still have a winning case and you are able to represent yourself in small claims court.
Consider filing a complaint against a dentist with the Dental Board of California before suing a dentist in small claims
What is the Dental Board of California?
The Dental Board of California licenses and regulates over 100,000 licensees; consisting of dentists (DDS), registered dental assistants (RDA), and registered dental assistants in extended functions (RDAEF).
The Dental Board of California:
- Issues licenses to eligible applicants
- Investigates complaints against licensees
- Disciplines licensees for violations of the Dental Practice Act
What will the Dental Board of California do?
The Dental Board of California will conduct an investigation of your complaint against the dentist. Fill out a complaint form and send to the Board for review and inspection. The Dental Board of California only has jurisdiction to take disciplinary action against its licensees. However, in certain circumstances, the Board will investigate allegations of unlicensed practice and will forward this information to the local District Attorney’s Office.
Common complaints filed include, but are not limited to:
- Improper advertising
- Gross negligence
- Repeated negligent acts
- Infection control
Suing a dentist in small claims court
How much can you sue a dentist for in small claims?
In California, you can sue a dentist for a maximum of $10,000 if you are an individual.
By suing in small claims you are agreeing to waive any amount over the maximum amount you can sue for, even if you are owed more.
For example, if you went to a dentist to get a crown, have a tooth extracted, or for aesthetic reasons and the dentist owes you $15,000, and you decide to sue in small claims, you are waiving suing for an additional $5,000. Meaning that you will win a maximum of $10,000 for the bad work or breach of contract claim you have against the dentist.
While you may be missing out on the full amount you are owed, there are practical benefits to suing in small claims instead of suing in "regular court."
Here are some of the benefits:
- Court filing fees are cheaper in small claims than in other courts.
- The process is faster in small claims than in other courts as your hearing will usually be scheduled 30-70 days after you file the lawsuit.
- Lawyers are generally not allowed in small claims which helps keep the costs of suing low.
How much does suing a dentist in a California small claims court cost?
So how much are you going to spend by suing a dentist in small claims court?
Court Filing Fees
The amount you will pay to file a small claims lawsuit in California depends on how much you are suing the dentist for. You will pay between $30 to $75 to file the lawsuit. If you cannot afford to pay court fees, you can ask the court to waive the fees.
Once the lawsuit is filed, you have to notify the dentist you sued that they have been sued. This is called "serving." Serving Costs can range from $0-$75 per defendant you sue (serving is free with the sheriff if you qualify for a waiver of your court fees).
If you win, you may be able to have the dentist reimburse you for your court fees and serving costs.
What are the steps to suing a dentist in small claims court
We have outlined each one of these steps in detail, click the links to learn more.
- Consider filing a complaint against a dentist before suing in small claims. Learn more here.
- Prepare and file the lawsuit. Learn more.
- Notify ("serve") the dentist you have sued. Learn more.
- Prepare for and attend the small claims hearing. Learn more.
Once the lawsuit is filed, the small claims hearing will be scheduled 30-70 days later.
What is a small claims court hearing like?
Small claims hearings are typically informal and most hearings do not last long. While many disputes settle before a small claims hearing, here is what to expect if your lawsuit does not settle.
Who will represent the dentist at the hearing?
- The easiest way to answer this question is that a lawyer will not be representing the dentist since lawyers cannot represent parties at the initial small claims hearing.
If you and the dentist you sued, both show up:
- Right before the hearing, the judge will ask you and the dentist to show each other the evidence that you will later show the judge.
- The judge will ask you why you are suing.
- The judge will ask the dentist to tell them their side of the story.
- The hearing will last around 15 minutes.
- The judge will ask you to show them the evidence you brought. Sometimes the judge will keep the evidence. Other times, you will get the evidence right back.
- Very rarely a judge will tell you whether you won or lost at the hearing. Instead, the judge will tell you that their decision will be mailed to you (usually takes a few weeks to two months or so).
If you show up but the dentist you sued does not show up:
- If the dentist you sued does not show up to the hearing but you properly notified ("served") them, then the hearing will still take place. You don't automatically win and you will still have to tell the judge why you should win.
Learn More: What is a Small Claims Court Hearing Like?
Preparing to File Your Small Claims Lawsuit Against a Dentist
In order to sue a dentist in a small claims court, you need to know:
- If the dentist is doing business as an individual or as a corporation or LLC.
- If the dentist is doing business as a corporation or LLC, then it is important to find who the "registered agent for service of process" is.
When filing a lawsuit against a dentist in a small claims court, it is very important to write down their information correctly and make sure you are suing the correct business entity.
1. What does suing the "correct business entity" mean?
An example is the best way to explain this. Let's say you took you had "ABC Dentist" do work on your house.
ABC Dentist may be a trade name for ABC Dentist, Inc. or even a more remote name like The ABCDEFG Dentist Company.
Dentists sometimes use a name other than their real legal entity name when doing business. This is called a fictitious business name. In general, dentists use fictitious business names or trade names for marketing purposes if their name or legal entity name is too long.
What happens if I don't sue the correct business entity for the dentist?
For one, you may be suing the wrong dentist. If you win the lawsuit you will get a "judgment" against the incorrect dentist and this will bring problems down the road.
The goal here is finding the correct person or business to sue.
2. Who is the "registered agent for service of process"?
- Any corporation or LLC that does business in California, has to select a person (or another business) to receive legal documents (like a lawsuit) on their behalf in California.
- This person (or business) responsible for receiving legal documents on behalf of the dentist is called the "registered agent for service of process" or just the "registered agent."
- After the lawsuit is filed, this is the person (or business) who will be notified ("served") of the lawsuit on behalf of the dentist you are suing.
- If the dentist is doing business as an individual (or sole proprietor) there is no agent for service of process (the dentist is the person that has to be served with the lawsuit).
3. Checklist of Potential Evidence
If your lawsuit against a dentist is about a contract you had with them, here is a sample checklist:
- The contract with the dentist
- Communications with the dentist or their office
If your lawsuit against a dentist is about negligence, here is a sample checklist:
- Pictures of what happened to you
- Declarations from witnesses
- Declarations from dentists