Oklahoma Dentist May Face Criminal Charges

by Bisnar Chase on April 5, 2013

A Tulsa-based oral surgeon, who officials say, has exposed thousands of his patients to HIV and hepatitis could be facing criminal charges. According to an Associated Press news report, the Oklahoma Dentistry Board looking into whether the Tulsa County District Attorney should press criminal charges against W. Scott Harrington.

Recent reports state that nearly 1,000 of Harrington’s 7,000 patients have now tested positive for HIV as well as hepatitis B and C. The District Attorney’s office told AP that they are looking for witnesses and individuals who can testify.

‘A Menace to Public Health’

Harrington’s clinics were shuttered after officials called his operation “a menace to the public health.” Investigators found rusty dental instruments, potentially contaminated drug vials and improper use of a machine designed to sterilize tools at his two Tulsa-area offices.

Harrington and his staff members could potentially face two felony charges including practicing dentistry without a license and aiding and abetting another person who is violating state law. Each possible charge could carry a prison term of up to four years and a $10,000 fine. Harrington has given up his license.

Officials say Harrington’s practice had varying cleaning procedures for its equipment. Needles were apparently inserted in drug vials after they were initially used and the drug vials were in turn used on multiple patients. Also, dental assistants performed some tasks such as administering IV sedation that is required to be done only by a licensed dentist. Also, a device used to sterilize equipment had not undergone required monthly tests in at least six years, officials said.

Protecting Victims’ Rights

Thousands of Harrington’s patients are still waiting to be tested. It will be weeks before officials determine the number of victims here. This is no doubt an appalling case of negligence. I trust officials will thoroughly investigate the case and determine if criminal charges are warranted here. In cases where negligence is involved, medical professionals can also be held civilly liable for the injuries and damages caused.

Infected victims in this case can file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the dentist seeking compensation for damages including medical expenses, lost wages, cost of testing, ongoing treatment, pain and suffering and emotional distress. An experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to advise victims and their families regarding their legal rights and options.

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