Bargain Smiles or Big Mistake? Surgery abroad and insurance  


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There has been a significant increase in the number of people travelling abroad to have cosmetic dental work undertaken. The trend, fuelled by TV programmes such as 'Love Island' and 'The Only Way is Essex' has been the subject of a recent documentary on the BBC ("Turkey Teeth: Bargain Smiles or Big Mistake"), widely reported in the written press and discussed at length on social media.

Turkey is currently the number one destination for UK patients seeking affordable cosmetic dental work due to the attractive option of combining the dental treatment with a holiday in sunnier climes.

The purpose of this article is not to consider the much-documented criticisms of 'dental tourism' from a dentistry perspective but to consider the significant legal and insurance implications of which UK citizens need to be aware if these dental procedures go wrong in Turkey and they need to bring a claim for dental negligence.

Although many individuals leave Turkey with no complications or issues, some unfortunate individuals report significant ongoing symptoms associated with the treatment. The dangers associated with having this cosmetic dental work undertaken can be severe if the treatment is not carried out properly, with many people coming back to the UK from Turkey in excruciating pain and discomfort due to the treatment. Some people are being left with overly sensitive teeth, infected gums, exposed nerves and or poorly fitted veneers and crowns.

In England and Wales, Dentists must have professional indemnity insurance which provides injured patients with the security of knowing they can bring a claim for financial compensation if the treatment goes wrong.

After treatment in Turkey, the Turkish dental practice may agree to cover remedial costs if something goes wrong, however, there may be many additional costs associated with these remedial procedures which might not be covered. For example, it is extremely unlikely that the Turkish dentist will cover the costs of flights and accommodation back to Turkey for the remedial work or the costs associated with any corrective work you may need to obtain in the UK and it should be noted that the costs associated with correcting the damage that may have been sustained in Turkey are likely to be much higher in the UK.

Legal Implications

If an individual returns to the UK and has been informed by their dentist that the treatment they received in Turkey was substandard, they may consider bringing a claim against the Turkish dentist. However, few patients will have considered the legal implications of this.

The applicable law in a claim for dental negligence arising out of treatment by a Turkish dentist will be Turkish and the legal claim would need to be brought in Turkey (potentially meaning that a Claimant would need to return to Turkey to be examined by a court appointed medical expert (Forensic Medicine Institution).  A UK claimant would need to instruct a Turkish lawyer to assist with the claim.

Mert Yalçın, Managing Partner of YT Law Firm has stated:-

"Turkish law requires the injured party to prove the damage and fault of the Defendant. The Claimant must also show a causal link between the incident, the fault and the damage. Thus, it should be proven that the damage is actually the result of the incident which was caused by the party at fault. Another point which needs to be proven is the severity of damage and this is usually examined when a claim is brought before Turkish courts, not prior to court proceedings. The Claimant’s bodily injuries will be needed to be examined by the Turkish Forensic Medicine Institution. Turkish Courts are likely to collect all the medical records and reports before this examination and if these are in English, these will need to be translated into Turkish language. Moreover, the Claimant will be expected to attend a medical appointment in Turkey for such medical examination and all of these travel and accommodation expenses will be the Claimant’s sole responsibility.

The Claimant’s losses will need to be examined by court-appointed experts (who have expertise in finance and accounting). This amount will solely be restricted to actual losses, given these losses should be proven with documentary evidence. The fault of the Defendant (medical professional/dentist) will need to be examined by court-appointed experts as well.

For all these examinations, the Claimant will be asked to deposit necessary amounts in to Court and the Claimant will be entitled to receive them back when/if they win the case at the end of the proceedings."

Insurance Implications of getting teeth done in Turkey

It is extremely unlikely that medical tourism of the like mentioned above would be covered by standard travel insurance and it is imperative that this is checked by anyone considering travelling for medical treatment. If an individual decides to travel to Turkey for dental treatment, they may need to obtain specialist insurance which covers dental treatment abroad.

An example would be Medical Travel Shield who promise on their website to offer possible additional benefits such as "economy return travel, accommodation and living expenses if your original treatment is medically assessed as unsuccessful and it is medically necessary to return to the same hospital/clinic within 12 months for corrective Treatment." However, it should be noted that Medical Travel Shield state that they "do not cover the cost of the corrective treatment."

Another element of insurance cover which is vital but often overlooked relates to Legal Expenses Insurance to cover the costs of bringing a claim for Clinical Negligence in Turkey as outlined above. A potential 'dental tourist' should ensure the policy includes legal expenses cover, which could cover the legal fees associated with bringing a claim against the dental clinic if something goes wrong.

In summary, inclusive medical insurance that covers all potential complications, including the cost of medical evacuation back to the UK and also Legal Expenses Insurance must be obtained to properly protect any individual considering dental or medical tourism.

Tom Sampford and Amber Gilgan of our Travel, Tourism and Insurance Team advise on all aspects of clinical negligence claims in the UK and in foreign jurisdictions.

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