Small Smiles wins 1st case alleging mistreatment of kids

2013 08 02 16 24 00 972 Justice Scale 200

A jury has found that Small Smiles dentists did not perform unnecessary dental procedures on a young boy at one of the chain's clinics in New York. The judge found that corporate ownership of the clinics was illegal under state law, but the jury found no liability by the company or the dentists.

The case involved Jeremy Bohn, who received four root canals and crowns, seven fillings, two extractions, and one crown at a Small Smiles clinic in Syracuse, NY, between May 2006 and March 2008, according to court records. The boy was restrained on at least two occasions, and on three occasions the dentist gave him fillings without using anesthesia, the complaint states.

The lawsuit accused dentists Koury Bonds, DDS; Naveed Aman, DDS; and Yaqoob Khan, DDS, of performing care that was "below the applicable standard of care which caused him to suffer injuries," according to the complaint.

The suit claimed the treatment was inappropriate, and the dentists' primary goal was to generate revenue for the company rather than the medical needs of the children.

“Given the strength of evidence, this verdict is dumbfounding.”
— Jim Moriarty, plaintiffs' attorney

The boy is one of 30 children included in two lawsuits filed in 2011 in New York State Supreme Court in Onondaga and Schenectady counties on behalf of 10 families in each county. The suits seek damages for alleged "unnecessary, inappropriate, unsafe, and excessive dental procedures" performed on young children at various Small Smiles clinics in those counties between 2005 and 2009. Battery, false advertising, malpractice, negligence, and breach of fiduciary duty also are alleged.

The parents who filed the lawsuits are requesting punitive damages due to the "egregious nature" of the dentists' alleged conduct. They allege their children were subjected to an "emotional and physical nightmare," often "struggling, screaming, and crying during dental procedures," the complaint states.

Plaintiffs' attorney Jim Moriarty of Houston was surprised by the jury's verdict, especially since Judge John Cherundolo of the 5th Judicial District of New York ruled that the corporate ownership of the clinics by Church Street Health Management (formerly Forba Holdings) violated New York law that only licensed dentists can own and operate dental clinics.

"Given the strength of evidence, this verdict is dumbfounding," he told "We have kids who went in for a simple cleaning and got stainless steel crowns."

Attorneys for the defendants did not return calls for comment.

The other cases are still pending; the next trial is scheduled for November.

Last year Judge Cherundolo rejected attempts by Small Smiles and its owners to dismiss the lawsuits. In the August 2012 ruling, Judge Cherundolo wrote that new dentists were required to attend training sessions that allegedly "made it clear that production was more important than quality patient care and they were expected to meet production goals."

"This scheme was allegedly created to take advantage of children in poorer families so that defendants could defraud the U.S. and several state governments of as much Medicaid monies as possible," Judge Cherundolo said in letting the case go forward. "Certainly, these allegations go beyond mere malpractice and establish a claim for fraud."

In 2010, Small Smiles paid $24 million to settle allegations of Medicaid fraud brought by the U.S. Department of Justice. A total of $3.45 million of that went to the state of New York, where the company operates several clinics.

More than 90% of the company's $161 million in revenues in 2011 came from Medicaid and the state Children's Health Insurance Program.

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