What Justice for Victims of Oklahoma Dentist?

As some 7,000 patients of a Tulsa dentist now face the real possibility that they have been exposed to HIV or hepatitis in his care, they also face harsh limits on their access to accountability and justice. 

The office of Dr. W. Scott Harrington was a disgusting and dangerous place according to reports.  State investigators said they discovered rusty instruments and unsanitary conditions.  CNN reported that one health official described the scene as a “perfect storm” for HIV and hepatitis exposure.  Unlicensed employees, the inspector said, were even allowed to perform IV sedations.

Such behavior is appalling enough -- but it could get even worse for anyone harmed by Dr. Harrington.  In 2011, Oklahoma’s state lawmakers imposed severe, arbitrary limits on victims of medical negligence seeking accountability.

This law caps the amount of non-economic damages a jury can award injured patients.  Non-economic damages compensate people for real injuries and losses that are not easily quantified by a dollar amount.  They cover injuries such as blindness, physical disfigurement, loss of limb, loss of a family member or the loss of the ability to enjoy life.

For patients who have contracted HIV or hepatitis, non-economic damages are an essential form of compensation.  These patients must now live every day knowing that they have been infected with a virus that could eventually kill them.  Their lives will be changed forever and they will suffer extreme physical and emotional pain. 

While money cannot cure the disease, non-economic damages can help injured patients live a better life.  But in Oklahoma politicians pre-determined what every Oklahoman’s injury is worth and limited patients’ ability to seek justice.  This serves only to injure patients, like Dr. Harrington’s, a second time.  

The tragic fact is that laws limiting justice exist around the country.  You can check here to see if they exist in your state.