Washington Jury Awards $14.8M Dental Malpractice Verdict

September 2, 2008

A former cheerleader has been awarded $14.8 million by a Spokane County, Wash., Superior Court jury after a series of dental surgeries left her disabled and disfigured with her jaw fused shut.

The jury decided that Dr. Patrick C. Collins, an oral surgeon, was negligent in performing the operations and made the award to Kimberly Kallestad, including $10 million for non-economic damages such as pain, suffering, disfigurement and “past and future loss of enjoyment of life.”

Collins did not appear in court as the verdict was delivered. His lawyer said he plans to appeal.

Kallestad, 29, a former Lewis and Clark High School cheerleader and varsity tennis player, is permanently disabled and in chronic pain. She cannot work and is being cared for by her parents.

She went to Collins after injuring her jaw while sledding and says he claimed he had a near-perfect success rate with a surgery technique he had developed and would become her “hero” by fixing her jaw.

Other patients who had trouble with Collins testified during the trial that he said similar things to them.

Kallestad thanked attorney Mary Schultz for taking her case, which was filed in 2004, shortly before the three-year statute of limitations expired.

“We did this to try to protect other patients and provide a voice for the victims,” Kallestad said.

John C. Versnel III of Seattle, a lawyer who represents many of the state’s dentists in litigation, said the jury award is the largest dental malpractice verdict in his 21 years of practice.

“I respect any jury decision, but to say we are extraordinarily surprised would be a gross understatement. We thought we had very good arguments” Versnel said.

Versnel said he intends to appeal, partly because other patients of Collins were allowed to testify and jurors heard a reference to a previous lawsuit against the dentist.

Judge Michael P. Price denied Versnel’s motion for a mistrial.

The other patients supported Kallestad’s testimony, saying the dentist made similar reassurances to them and then chided them when they reported severe pain after their operations.

Two other Spokane dentists, John Ames and James Howard, testified they had had multiple patients who came to them in pain after Collins operated on their jaws.

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