A woman who said part of her mouth has been numb ever since she woke from dental surgery five years ago was awarded $100,000 yesterday by a D.C. Superior Court jury in a dental malpractice case.
The six-member panel announced the verdict after a week-long trial in which Seline Z. Malament testified she felt like she had "half a mouth" as a result of surgery to make her new dentures fit better. Malament, 54, described how she could not eat or drink properly.
"The jury was obviously concerned by the fact that Mrs. Malament would have to live for the rest of her life with the worry of embarrassing herself . . . and her complaints that when she kisses her husband or grandchildren she can't even feel the touch," said her lawyer Marvin Ellin, who tried the case along with LaVonna Vice.
Stephen A. Guttenberg, the dentist who was sued for the 1980 surgery, said he was "absolutely stunned by the verdict" and called it "very incorrect."
"I feel it is an outrageous verdict," added Kenneth Armstrong, Guttenberg's lawyer. Armstrong said an appeal is being considered.
According to court records and testimony, Guttenberg and a resident performed "oral-maxillo facial surgery" on Malament to correct problems she was having with her dentures. The surgery included pulling some muscles in the front of the mouth and removing front teeth, according to court documents.
After the surgery, court documents show that Malament, formerly of Virginia and now living in Montreal, repeatedly complained that she felt numbness and that her lip curled inwards, looking "scrunched in."
Malament's lawyers argued that Guttenberg, of the District, injured a nerve in Malament's mouth, causing the numbness, and that surgery should not have been performed because Malament had insufficient tissue in her mouth.
Witnesses for Guttenberg countered that the dentist had followed procedures "exactly as they should have been followed ," said his lawyer, and "just as in the book."
"Malament's complaint as testified to by her was that a quarter of an inch of her lip was thinner than before and she had lost some feeling in her lip on left side . . . " said Armstrong. "The verdict is far out of proportion to similar cases."