A federal jury in Alexandria, finding that improper dental treatment at Georgetown University Hospital caused a Norfolk woman severe pain and permanent injury, has ordered the university to pay the woman $1.1 million in damages.
A lawyer for the American Dental Association said yesterday the award appears to be among the largest ever in a medical malpractice case involving dentistry.
A jury in U.S. District Court ruled Wednesday that Georgetown University Hospital's dental clinic was negligent in its treatment of Bonnie Henry, the wife of a Navy officer and a former Washington area resident. Henry, who visited the clinic about 30 times in 1982 and 1983, filed suit against the university in 1985, contending that she experienced chronic pain for much of the treatment.
Henry has filed a second malpractice suit as a result of dental care she received at Bethesda Naval Hospital in 1985. Henry underwent oral surgery at Bethesda to correct problems that were caused by her treatment at the Georgetown hospital dental clinic, according to her suit.
In court papers, lawyers representing the Bethesda hospital have admitted that it will have to pay damages to Henry because of treatment performed there. Judge James C. Cacheris, who heard arguments in the suit, has not yet determined the amount of those damages.
Lawyers for Georgetown University Hospital have asked Cacheris to set aside the jury's decision. Jeremiah Collins, an attorney for the hospital, declined to comment yesterday.
William J. Olson, an attorney for Henry, said he believed the award was just. "We certainly are pleased that the jury understood the nature of the injury to Mrs. Henry and compensated her for it," Olson said.
Henry said in her suit that she initially went to the Georgetown hospital dental clinic to replace the crowns on three of her teeth for "cosmetic reasons." But she was diagnosed as having an overbite and other problems that resulted from grinding her teeth in her sleep.
During the course of 30 visits, the suit charges, she began to experience chronic pain and suffered "virtually constantly." Because of her pain, the suit says, she was forced to undergo surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital, which produced "even more serious consequences." The suit says Henry's jaw has been permanently damaged.