Grandfather who swallowed false teeth awarded £200,000 damages after operation caused life-threatening injuries

Lady Wise
Lady Wise

A man who swallowed his false teeth has been awarded nearly £200,000 in damages after suffering “severe” injuries during a hospital procedure to remove the dental plate from his food pipe.

Derek Hamilton, who swallowed his dental plate while playing with his grandson, sued Lanarkshire Health Board for “negligence” after an operation by consultant surgeon Martin Downey to remove the plate through the oesophagus caused a “life-threatening” tear.

A judge in the Court of Session ruled that the surgeon “breached his duty of care” to his patient.

‘Life-threatening complications’

Lady Wise heard that the pursuer accidentally swallowed his dental plate while at playing at home with his grandson on 26 January 2013.

He was admitted to Wishaw General Hospital, but following the procedure to remove the dental plate through the oesophagus on 27 January 2013 his medical condition deteriorated dramatically.

The operation caused a tear and he suffered “life-threatening complications”, requiring him to be admitted to the hospital critical care unit and multiple visits to theatre.

But gradually the pursuer’s condition began to improve, resulting in him being well enough to be discharged home on 13 March 2013 after spending a total of 45 days in hospital.

Mr Hamilton raised an action for damages against the defender, claiming that Mr Downey ought not to have persisted with the removal of the dental plate via his oesophagus using an endoscope, but instead should have converted to a laparotomy to remove it.

Had he done so, it is argued that the injuries suffered by the pursuer would have been avoided.


Damages were agreed at £195,000, but negligence and causation were disputed.

The court was told that Mr Downey was employed as a consultant general surgeon with a sub-speciality interest in colorectal surgery at the hospital since April 2005.

The court noted that he had extensive experience of removing tissue growths from the bowel at that time, but much less of any sort through the oesophagus.

He thought he had probably removed less than five objects endoscopically through the oesophagus by 2013, and had never removed a dental plate that way.

Mr Downey felt the principles of the operation were the same and his skills were transferable, but the court heard evidence that the dental plate should have been removed through a laparotomy, which is a surgical incision to the abdomen.

The court also heard that in his daily work in colorectal surgery Mr Downey operated as a “highly skilled and effective professional”, and that he “regretted” the poor outcome that resulted in Mr Hamilton’s case.

But the defender’s position was that Mr Downey acted with “appropriate skill and care” and that the evidence on the timing of Mr Hamilton’s deterioration did not establish the necessary “causal link”.

‘Easily avoidable risk’

The judge found in favour of the pursuer after ruling that the surgeon had taken an “easily avoidable risk”.

In a written opinion, Lady Wise said: “I have found that Mr Downey took an easily avoidable risk, namely of perforating the oesophagus, that all general surgeons know is a catastrophe to be avoided.

“I have found that, but for the taking of that easily avoidable risk, the patient’s oesophagus would have remained intact as it was the act of removing the plate that caused the perforation.

“The pursuer has therefore established both breach of duty and causation. I emphasise that my conclusions in this case are restricted to an isolated occasion on which Mr Downey breached his duty of care to a patient.”

She added: “In light of the decision I have reached I will sustain the pursuer’s first and second pleas in law. Damages are agreed in the sum of £195,000 but there will be interest accruing.”

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2020

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