Four fillings, four crowns, two root canals, about $6,000 and two years invested as a patient at the Ohio State College of Dentistry left Greg Morgan in what he calls a “medical and legal nightmare with no clear end in sight.”
A simple toothache led Morgan, a 53-year-old handyman, to the OSU Emergency Dental Clinic in March 2006. His experience led him to file two lawsuits against the dental school claiming malpractice, breach of contract and fraudulent concealment, among others. He is seeking a total of $250,000.
Last September, the case was temporarily postponed. A hearing is scheduled March 3 to determine when the case will resume.
Morgan said his lawsuit stems from incomplete disclosure and lack of communication regarding his treatment.
After being led down one treatment path and having a multitude of work done to accomplish his treatment goal, Morgan claims his plan was suddenly changed, leaving him confused, with unfinished dental work and no reimbursement of costs.
Morgan said he never knew the treatment plan he chose wouldn’t succeed.
Dr. Peter Urbanik, a dentist at Brookview Dental in Sylvania, Ohio, said patients should be properly informed of possible disadvantages before the initiation of treatment.
Urbanik said it is “stupid” that all departments involved in Morgan’s care didn’t consult with each other at the very beginning.
“If your departments are so screwed up that they don’t want to sit in the same room together for five minutes, then they ought to be smacked,” Urbanik said.
Morgan is litigating this case himself. However, Jeffrey Beausay, a trial attorney at The Donahey Law Firm in Columbus, believes Morgan will not get very far.
“You better have a pretty good case if you take a medical malpractice case, otherwise you’re going to lose,” Beausay said, adding that medical malpractice suits are, themselves, arduous.
At Morgan’s first examination in the emergency clinic, he was told he needed a root canal for his aching tooth, as well as other restorative work.
After this visit, he was screened to determine if the work he needed was an appropriate “teaching case.” He was then assigned to a student dentist.
“I wanted to restore my teeth not for the aesthetics, but because I didn’t want to lose all my teeth,” Morgan said.
Over the next several months, Morgan endured four fillings, but still needed additional work.
Morgan was referred to advanced prosthodontics, a specialty area that focuses on complex cases. He met with Dr. Julie Holloway, department director, to discuss treatment options.
Holloway advised him it was essential to open his bite, or increase the height of his back teeth, to provide room in the front of his mouth for the placement of crowns. She presented two possible treatment plans.
Morgan was unsure of which plan to choose, so he asked Holloway for her opinion. Morgan said she recommended the option that included the use of braces to extrude Morgan’s back teeth, thus opening his bite. This plan was estimated at $17,000.
On Morgan’s screening evaluation document, it is noted that plans discussed were not considered final.
Yet, Morgan says he was not informed that the treatment plan was tentative in any way.
Morgan then met with his pre-doctoral provider, Joe Landry, who told him restorative work had to be complete before consultation with orthodontics. This included placement of four gold crowns on Morgan’s back teeth.
Before Morgan committed to one of the two proposed treatment plans, Landry met with Holloway to discuss the case, where it was confirmed that treatment using extrusion was preferred.
In court discovery documents, Landry wrote that he then “repeated words and ideas directly from discussion with Holloway (to Morgan).”
In Morgan’s request of admissions documents, however, the College of Dentistry denied that this treatment plan involving extrusion was an option.
The document also states “such extrusion was never recommended to this patient.”
When The Lantern contacted Holloway, she referred all questions to Jim Lynch, director of OSU media relations.
Lynch said OSU doesn’t discuss cases in active litigation. All other parties contacted from the OSU College of Dentistry refused to comment.
Now confident in his decision, which Holloway and Landry confirmed, Morgan began restorative treatment. His first crown was placed in October 2007.
One month later, his treatment took a turn.
During Morgan’s appointment, a dentist in primary care inquired about Morgan’s treatment plan.
Morgan said the dentist told him that extrusion of teeth — slightly pulling out teeth to elongate them — is difficult and relapse was probable.
“I was stunned,” Morgan said. “No one had ever told me any of this.”
Hall then escorted Morgan to the orthodontics clinic, where a faculty member assured him that extrusion was possible. Morgan said he began feeling wary of his treatment.
Morgan met with his orthodontic resident, Dr. Matthew Ames, to discuss his next step: braces.
Diagnostic records were taken, and Morgan was to be contacted in the next few weeks with his orthodontic treatment plan.
Morgan said Ames never called. He continued restorative treatment and had another crown placed.
In January 2008, he met with Ames, who stated the planned extrusion was not necessary and the clinic was devising another treatment plan.
Morgan wondered why he had already had two gold crowns placed already if extrusion was now unnecessary.
“I hadn’t wanted gold crowns and only allowed them to be placed based on Dr. Holloway’s advice that they would withstand the extrusion process better than porcelain,” Morgan said.
According to Morgan, Ames then whispered to him, “They’ll probably redo those crowns for free if you twist a few arms.”
Ames declined to comment.
Morgan said he continued with treatment because he saw no other option.
Before placement of Morgan’s final crown, he needed a root canal, and thus met with Dr. Rachel Matthews of advanced endodontics. Morgan said Matthews asserted that extrusion of his back teeth was not necessary, but also not advisable.
Matthews could not be reached for comment.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Morgan said.
Morgan said this was the first time he was told extrusion was not advisable.
According to Morgan’s admissions documents, Matthews could not recall this conversation.
Morgan’s last crown was placed, after which he met with graduate prosthodontic resident Dr. Mohammed Abdelhamed. After another diagnostic examination, Morgan had hopes of continuing treatment, yet he said Abdelhamed didn’t contact him for several months. When they met in June 2008, Abdelhamed revealed a new treatment plan, omitting orthodontics.
Morgan said he didn’t feel comfortable with Abdelhamed’s proposal, believing it was “riddled with compromises” and created on the fly just to avoid a lawsuit.
Abdelhamed could not be reached for comment.
“I was convinced that the clinic had made a mistake and they would not admit it,” Morgan said.
After asking numerous questions in an attempt to understand where his initial treatment plan went wrong, Morgan decided to again meet with Holloway, but he first met with College of Dentistry Dean Carole Anderson for advice on how to proceed. He requested confidentiality.
However, the meeting didn’t remain confidential. According to Morgan, at his September 2008 meeting with Holloway, she mentioned Morgan’s conversation with Anderson, who also declined to comment.
Morgan said Holloway, for the first time, then admitted extrusion was not possible.
“I inquired as to why I had pursued an irreversible treatment plan, only to be told at the last minute this was not advisable,” Morgan said. “I asked why she had not determined this before I had a year’s worth of work done.
Morgan and Holloway then began discussing how to continue.
Holloway told Morgan he could continue with the alternative treatment option first presented, but only after paying to have his new crowns removed.
“I don’t think I should have to pay for their mistakes,” Morgan said. “I put these crowns on thinking they could extrude my teeth and now they can’t?”
Living in a Lancaster cabin with no running water, Morgan said he is poor, which is why he initially sought treatment at OSU.
Morgan said if OSU would have been straightforward upon discovery of his treatment plan’s flaws and recommended he start again at an adjusted rate, he would have agreed.
Morgan contacted Dr. Edwin Kluth, an OSU alum and prosthodontist in West Virginia, about a year ago.
“It didn’t seem like he was asking for anything other than to get back on track and it seemed like there could be a way for that to happen,” Kluth said. “I’m not even sure why it didn’t happen. I think he just wanted things to get going in the right direction, which, given this day in age, is not unreasonable.”
In an attempt to help settle the lawsuit, Kluth contacted OSU; however, he was told that it had gone too far.
Kluth said he wanted to help because it seemed like a situation that could be fixed with more discussion. He also emphasized that he wants his alma mater to be seen in a good light.
He added that it can be tricky to coordinate treatment when many clinics are involved.
“You’ve got to keep the communication going if you’ve got multiple departments,” he said. “Everybody’s got to be on board from the get go.”
At Morgan’s last meeting with Holloway, the same meeting in which he felt his confidentiality was breached, she informed him that he was not a good candidate for the clinic and dismissed him as a patient. In Morgan’s clinic chart, Holloway documented that she informed him that the difficulty in starting treatment, his request for refunds and the threat of contacting an attorney led to his dismissal.
She also wrote the patient left on good terms. Morgan disagrees.
Morgan began contacting attorneys, but soon realized he could not afford one.
He spent months researching medical malpractice, then filed two lawsuits in the Court of Claims last March. He also found an expert witness to sign an affidavit of merit in his case.
Because OSU is a state institution, lawsuits must be filed in the Court of Claims, where only a judge is present, no jurors.
“If you think about that, the judge who decides the case is an employee of the defendant,” Beausay said. “Does that seem fair? It doesn’t seem fair to me. You never know who the judge is going to be, but you do know that judge is going to be employed by the state of Ohio.”
Ted Hart, deputy director of media relations for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Morgan also filed a case against Holloway, Ames and Abdelhamed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, claiming they acted with malice and recklessness.
Because the dentists work for a state institution, Morgan cannot sue them personally because they can be granted immunity. Morgan is asking for this immunity be lifted.
“I have not taken any action against Joe Landry because he has been completely honest throughout this ordeal,” Morgan said.
Landry, a 2009 graduate of the OSU College of Dentistry, now practices in Tallmadge, Ohio.
“This is now between the College of Dentistry and Mr. Morgan,” Landry wrote in an e-mail.
Morgan said he would hire an attorney if he could afford one.
“I think it’s a sad state of affairs in America when the justice system is taken, literally, out of the hands of the common man, and no matter what you want to do, you have to pay a lawyer thousands of dollars,” Morgan said.
Morgan is placing his faith in the judge that is presiding over this case.
Morgan said he hopes his case will help change clinic operations to protect other patients from experiencing a “house of horrors” experience.
“I have no choice, I have to have faith. I can’t just go away, I can’t quit,” Morgan said. “This has destroyed my life for two years. It’s all I think about.”