After three years of legal maneuvering, the malpractice trial of a Bellows Falls dentist began in Woodstock on Monday.
Dr. Jon Mozaffari, the owner of Greater Falls Dentistry, is alleged to have “deviated from the standard of care during the course of his treatment of Michele Griffith,” according to the initial complaint filed in Windsor County Superior Court in Woodstock on Sept 4, 2015. The suit asks for unspecified damages.
“I asked [Dr. Mozaffari] if it was cancerous, and he said no,” Griffith said at one point.
According to the complaint, Griffith, once the postmaster in Perkinsville, alerted Mozaffari to the existence of a lesion on the bottom of her mouth on June 3, 2010. She asked if it was cancerous, and testified that Mozaffari called it a “mouth ulcer,” another name for canker sore.
In his opening statement, Griffith’s attorney, Michael Hanley of the White River Junction law firm of Plant & Hanley, told the jury, “It is impossible to tell the difference between a benign or malignant lesion just by looking at it.”
In his opening statement, Burlington attorney John M. Green said Mozaffari ought to know a canker sore when he sees one.
“Dr. Mozaffari has seen hundreds, if not thousands of canker sores in his practice,” the dentist’s attorney said.
According to Griffith’s testimony and evidence Hanley presented to the jury, Griffith returned to Greater Falls Dentistry on several occasions between 2010 and 2013. Hanley claimed that Mozzafari did not monitor the lesion. Griffith testified that Mozafari never administered a screen for oral cancer.
Green told the jury that the real question is whether the lesion discovered in June 2010 was actually cancerous at all.
In April 2014, Griffith went to a dermatologist in Springfield, who did order a biopsy. It came back positive for cancer.
Hanley told the jury that this led to some serious surgery. The cancer, he said, had spread to Griffith’s jaw, and even into her nervous system. She had extensive surgery done on her jaw, had part of her mouth and tongue removed, and other bones in her body were harvested to replace the jaw.
Hanley told the jury that Griffith had to undergo another round of similar procedures later. The result has severely disfigured Griffith, forcing her to subsist on Social Security, and leaving her unable to ingest only soft food. She testified that she dislikes going out in public, and has been called painful nicknames.
“I would like to be able to eat food,” Griffith testified at one point.
Under cross-examination by Green, Griffith said that she had smoked for years, and blamed her cancer on that.
“Your smoking, and not Dr. Mozaffari?” Green asked.
“Correct,” Griffith replied.
For his part, Green said that Mozaffari had few opportunities to follow up because Griffith didn’t make appointments.
“It’s a pretty serious allegation to be called professionally negligent,” Green told the jury. He said that Griffith didn’t see Mozaffari at all in 2011, which Griffith confirmed later. Green said Green said that Griffith never brought the subject up with Mozzafari again.
“She never said a word about the lesion in her mouth,” Green said. “The evidence is that she had a canker sore. She has had lesions come and go.”
The trial is expected to run through the end of the week.
-- GLYNIS HART