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Shipman & Goodwin Attorney Takes Unusual Tack in Dental Malpractice Case, Arguing that Plaintiff Suffered From a Psychiatric Disorder

March 9, 2007

A Hartford trial attorney defending a dental malpractice trial took an unusual tack, arguing that the plaintiff suffered not from botched root canal treatments but from a psychiatric disorder.

Following a Superior Court trial that spanned 12 weeks, the jury shut out the plaintiff's claim for noneconomic damages (pain and suffering) based, in large part, on the theory that her suffering and symptoms stemmed from a psychiatric condition. She was awarded just $2,600 in economic damages.

"Three months and the plaintiff was awarded less than $3,000," said Robert R. Simpson, a partner at Shipman & Goodwin, who defended the case with Ami V. Gadhia, an associate at the firm. "This is a clear sign that the disorder trumped the damages. Our strategy was to go beyond the conventional malpractice defense given the hand we were dealt. The evidence established a decades-long pattern of behavior in which the plaintiff visited doctors with a range of complaints - only to have the doctors find repeatedly that there were no objective findings to support her subjective complaints."

The plaintiff's case centered on root canal treatments performed by a Danbury dentist, Allen Hindin, on two of her teeth. Louise Mayne claimed that Dr. Hindin's treatment resulted additional medical and dental treatment, including sinus surgery, loss of teeth, a hole in her sinus, headaches, nasal drainage, lost time from work and a plethora of other injures.

As a result, Ms. Mayne said she suffered from "great mental physical pain and anguish," including permanent sinus damage and infection, an inability to eat due to nausea and vomiting, and "intense pressure" to the left side of her face. She said she also had to leave her teaching job.

At trial, Dr. Adrienne Bentman, a board certified psychiatrist and internist and Director at the Institute of Living, rendered a powerful opinion that "based on the six feet of medical records, Ms. Mayne suffers from a psychiatric disorder called undifferentiated somatoform disorder." Patients with the disorder have complaints that are unsupported by any objectively identifiable physical condition, or have complaints that are well in excess of an actual medical problem. Medical practitioners believe the disorder can be used as a way to cope with stress or to achieve "secondary gains," such as attention, caring or financial rewards.

Simpson and Gadhia supported their case with voluminous medical records, including records showing the woman had visited health care professionals hundreds of times since the 1970s.

"We created an electronic timeline that highlighted her history of symptoms without clinical support," said Simpson. "Our goal was to demonstrate for the jury exactly what her medical record looked like. We believe it was very effective in establishing an unmistakable pattern consistent with this psychiatric disorder. The challenge was to highlight the evident psychiatric component without attacking a very sympathetic witness. The jury's decision to award zero in noneconmic damages indicates that we were able to walk the tightrope without falling off."

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