Earlier this year, Alaska dentist Dr. Seth Lookhart was convicted on multiple counts of fraud and other wrongdoing, including extracting a tooth while he rode a Hoverboard.
In September 2020, he was sentenced to twelve years in prison.
In 2017, prosecutors charged Lookhart with over a dozen infractions, including the aforementioned Hoverboard extraction.
Lookhart jokingly said his act established “a new standard of care,” according to phone records.
Other charges included Medicaid fraud and administering anesthesia “without training or consent.”
During the sentencing hearing, Lookhart said he had changed and threw himself on the mercy of the court.
While Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton forgave Lookhart for his “outrageous, narcissistic, and crazy” actions, the judge added that “there’s obviously a high-priced lesson that you’re going to have to learn.”
Criminal and Civil Proceedings
Medical negligence cases often involve criminal and civil proceedings. Criminal proceedings are almost exclusively about punishment.
Civil claims, on the other hand, are about compensation. These actions hold people responsible for the mistakes they make.
Some civil claims, especially medical negligence claims, involve punitive damages.
Despite the name, however, these additional damages are not about punishment.
Large damage awards are the best way, and often the only way, to convince large healthcare conglomerates and other entities to change the way they do business.
Because of the different nature of these proceedings, the burden of proof is different.
Criminal court prosecutors must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
But New York personal injury lawyers must only establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
The lower burden of proof makes it easier for victims to obtain compensation for their economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Medical Negligence and Negligence Per Se
If a doctor or other professional violates the law, which in this case was taking unnecessary risks during a medical procedure, the negligence per se shortcut might apply.
Tortfeasors (negligent actors) could be liable for damages as a matter of law if:
- They violate a safety law, and
- That violation substantially causes injury.
On a related note, Lookhart probably performed procedures without informed consent.
The patient at issue probably agreed to a tooth extraction but did not agree to a Hoverboard tooth extraction.
That violation could also invoke the negligence per se shortcut, although it’s more difficult to tie the injury to the violation.
Negligence per se often comes up in other contexts as well. Alcohol-related car crashes are a good example.
Drivers who have one or two drinks are dangerously impaired. Victim/plaintiffs can use circumstantial evidence to establish such impairments.
But if the tortfeasor received a DUI citation, the tortfeasor could be liable as a matter of law. There’s no need to prove impairment or anything else.
Medical Negligence and Ordinary Negligence
Other medical negligence cases involve the ordinary negligence doctrine, which comes from 1932’s Donoghue v. Stevenson.
This case introduced the neighbour principle, an idea which became the duty of care in New York courts.
At a cafe in Scotland, Ms. Donoghue was enjoying a treat of ginger beer and ice cream.
She was aghast to find a dead snail in the bottom of the beer bottle.
She filed an action against Stevenson, the beer bottler, asserting the novel claim that “the defender’s system of working his business was defective, in respect that his ginger beer bottles were washed and allowed to stand in places to which it was obvious that snails had freedom of access from outside the defender’s premises, and in which, indeed, snails and slimy trails of snails were frequently found.”
To resolve the dispute, the court articulated the neighbour principle, an idea based on the story of the Good Samaritan.
“The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law, you must not injure your neighbour. . .You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour.”
In medical negligence cases, there is a higher duty of care.
Doctors have a fiduciary duty toward their patients. They must put aside all other priorities, such as making money or making a point about their skills, and only do what is best for their patients.
Medical negligence victims usually have several legal options.
For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik, PLLC. You may have a limited amount of time to act.