The Smile Center case is a great example of how the court system can make a positive difference in our community. It’s also a great example of Crosley Law Firm’s ability to successfully pursue and deal with large-scale claims.
Over the course of this case, Crosley Law Firm represented hundreds of San Antonio children pursuing claims for unnecessary and sub-standard dental work that they received from The Smile Center, a dental clinic chain with six area locations in San Antonio, Texas.
Raising Awareness of Dental Fraud and Malpractice
In many ways, this case began long before any lawsuit was filed. In recent years, many social, health, and wellness programs have emerged or expanded (including Medicaid, CHiP, and others) to help those in need get financial assistance to pay for dental care. Like many health-related issues, preventative care and early interventions are often more cost-efficient and result in longer-term benefits for patients. For example, it is less painful (and cheaper) to have routine checkups and cleanings to spot a cavity early on and get it treated than to wait until it is painful and infected and requires a root canal or other costly procedure to remedy the problem.
Unfortunately, despite all the people whose lives have been improved as a result of these programs, some dentists saw an opportunity to take advantage of the system. Back in 2010, a few corporate-owned chain dental clinics were featured prominently in the news in several states due to the fact that dentists were undertaking procedures on patients (like using an expensive crown when a simple filling would have been more appropriate) that were not only unnecessary, but that were performed poorly and even harmed patients.
In 2011, Crosley Law Firm was contacted by the parent of a child who received numerous stainless steel crowns and other procedures by a dentist at one of the locally-owned Smile Center dental clinics in San Antonio. As it turned out, all of the dental treatment was paid for by Medicaid, and most of the treatment was unnecessary.
Suspecting a larger problem, Crosley Law Firm began an investigation into claims of unnecessary or substandard treatment at Smile Center clinics in San Antonio, Texas treating children covered by Medicaid.
Mounting Tension over Lawsuits
During their investigation, Crosley Law Firm discovered hundreds of children who had gotten work done by certain dentists at specific Smile Center clinics—work that Crosley Law Firm claimed was unnecessary or substandard, that resulted in harm to these children, and that was paid for by Medicaid. The attorneys at Crosley Law Firm went to work getting leading dentists in the state to review the records of these children.
Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s office in Texas launched its own investigation into the mounting cases of alleged dental fraud perpetrated at Smile Center dental clinics.
All of this bad press incited The Smile Center to file a lawsuit against Crosley Law Firm, WOAI-TV, and television reporter Brian Collister in 2012. The lawsuit, which sought $50 million in damages, was filed against these parties for making allegedly defamatory statements surrounding The Smile Center’s performance of unnecessary and excessive dental work on low-income children.
However, The Smile Center’s lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, and Smile Center and it’s owner Dr. Stephen Simpton was ordered to pay over $100,000 in sanction penalties and attorney fees to and Tom Crosley of Crosley Law Firm. Following the dismissal, The Smile Center was also separately ordered to pay sanctions and attorney fees to WOAI and Collister.
Crosley Law Firm Files Suit on Behalf of Victims
Amid this back and forth of legal disputes, the attorneys at Crosley Law Firm never lost sight of their primary objective: seeking justice and compensation for the victims of excessive and unnecessary dental treatment. Starting in 2012, Crosley Law Firm filed several different lawsuits on behalf of different groups of victims, though they all shared one thing in common: seeking to hold The Smile Center and certain dentists accountable for the harm caused.
Along with filing these lawsuits, Crosley Law Firm actively sought to make changes at the local and state level. They helped their clients file formal written complaints with the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners over fraudulent treatment, alleging that the procedures victims received at The Smile Center were not only unnecessary, but below acceptable standards.
Before even being treated, the injured children and their parents shared detailed accounts of aggressive solicitation by Smile Center employees, pressuring them to make dental appointments. For example, parents were approached in parking lots with the promise of dental exams for their children at no out-of-pocket cost to them.
Then, once inside The Smile Center clinics, many of the children were heavily sedated and physically restrained before receiving baby root canals, stainless steel crowns, and other excessive treatments. For example, some children were strapped down in a device called a papoose board, which is a restraining tool designed to keep patients immobilized while dental work is performed. This type of restraint, used on children, is typically only used in very limited circumstances such as major dental trauma; in fact, using one is considered a serious breach of ethics in some countries and is even banned in others, like the United Kingdom, because they can cause psychological and/or physical harm.
As far as treatment was concerned, some of Crosley Law Firm’s clients were given stainless steel crowns on every single tooth! Other types of treatment included a high number of pulpotomies (baby root canals). These procedures resulted in injuries and required additional treatment (including hospitalizations and visits to the emergency room) to correct the damage caused.
Complications that the victims suffered from included:
- Crowns falling out
- Injuries from dental instruments
- Inflamed gums
- Severe pain
- Serious infections
- Tooth extractions
- And more
In a WOAI-TV interview, one mother explained that her child “was on the floor, screaming, crying, grabbing his cheek, shaking and basically telling me ‘I can’t take it anymore! It hurts!’”
Perhaps worst of all, many children were ashamed or afraid to smile long after their experience at these dental clinics because of the way their teeth looked. And they were afraid to return to a dentist after being subjected to these procedures.
Why perform these harmful and excessive treatments? The affected children were covered by Medicaid, and the clinics would bill Medicaid directly for these expensive procedures. State records showed that the six clinics involved in the lawsuits Crosley Law Firm filed collected tens of millions of dollars from Medicaid during each year covered by the lawsuits.
At the time, Tom Crosley remarked, “Our aim is to root out and put a stop to those few bad apples in the dental community that are harming children, bilking taxpayers, and abusing the system.” Over the course of four years, Crosley Law Firm filed a dozen lawsuits alleging fraud or dental malpractice against The Smile Center and/or its dentists.
Crosley Law Firm Helps Bring Resolution for Victims
While The Smile Center repeatedly denied these claims, the evidence uncovered by the attorneys at Crosley Law Firm was overwhelming. In 2014, the 131st District Court in Bexar County, Texas granted approval for an undisclosed settlement amount for many of these victimized children. Inside Edition even ran a national story about this case called “Are Some Dentists Drilling For Dollars?” Tom Crosley was interviewed for the segment because of his work on The Smile Center cases. Other attorneys who worked on the case included George Mauze of Mauze Law Firm in San Antonio.
Finally, in late 2015, the remaining Smile Center cases were settled. At the time, Tom Crosley explained that “with this court approval of these last five lawsuits, we now bring to a close these tragic cases.” Furthermore, he expressed that the cases were settled “to the mutual satisfaction of all parties concerned.”
Crosley Law Firm: Advocating for Victims and Change
At Crosley Law Firm, clients always come first. We took on these dental cases because innocent victims were being taken advantage of and even harmed by the negligent and fraudulent practices of others. We sought change to help prevent similar tragedies in the lives of other children in the future. For us, that is what practicing law is all about.
If you or someone you know has been injured or lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s carelessness, contact Crosley Law Firm right away. We can schedule a free consultation to listen to the details of your story and help you determine what your best course of action is moving forward. Don’t hesitate—call our offices at (210) 354-4500 or fill out a convenient online form.
Are some dentists drilling for dollars? (2013, November 13). Inside Edition. Retrieved from http://www.insideedition.com/investigative/7340-are-some-dentists-drilling-for-dollars
Danner, P. (2012, August 9). Smile Center must pay sanctions. MySA. http://www.mysanantonio.com/business/article/Smile-Center-must-pay-sanctions-3773479.php
Danner, P. (2015, December 10). Ex-Smile Center dentists settle malpractice claims. San Antonio Express-News. Retrieved from http://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Ex-Smile-Center-dentists-settle-malpractice-claims-6690077.php