Roberto Placido Sandoval went to a southside Milwaukee dentist in February 2019 to get three teeth repaired.
He got out the chair missing 13 teeth, and bleeding so badly he wound up in an emergency room days later.
He sued for negligence in January 2020, including a claim the dentist failed to get his informed consent for the extreme extractions, as well as breach of contract and falsification of records. His lawsuit named as defendants Bright Dental, on Lincoln Avenue, dentist Muhammed Alsamarraie and his insurance company.
The coronavirus pandemic struck weeks later, closing courthouses and dental offices. Over Zoom hearings, a judge, Jeffrey Conen, threw out Sandoval’s case saying Sandoval had missed a deadline to identify an expert who would challenge Alsamarraie’s work as anything but acceptable within the standard of care.
A few months after that, on Jan. 26, 2021, Sandoval died at 57 from complications of COVID-19. His estate, represented by his wife, pressed on with the appeal in his case.
Julius Andriusis is an immigration, workers compensation and personal injury lawyer in Milwaukee. He represented Sandoval, and now represents the estate.
This week, the Court of Appeals reversed Conen’s decision and reinstated Sandoval’s case.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of Conen’s former circuit bench colleagues says he was wrong about the need for an expert on some claims and abused his discretion in denying Sandoval’s request to modify a scheduling order.
“The record clearly shows that the circuit court simply denied Sandoval’s request without considering the reasons Sandoval set forth for his request, including the closure of dentist offices as a result of Covid-19 protocols,” the court wrote.
“In fact, instead of addressing Sandoval’s reasons, the circuit court repeatedly interrupted counsel, called counsel a liar, and even threatened counsel with an OLR complaint.
“Consequently, nothing in the record demonstrates a rational process where the circuit court reviewed the relevant facts and applied the proper standard of law to reach a conclusion.”
Alsamarraie’s attorney, Lauren Wick, said in an email they are considering seeking Supreme Court review of the decision “that we believe to be factually and legally inaccurate. Beyond that we cannot comment at this time.”
A full arch came out
Sandoval came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 18, his lawyer said, and worked in restaurants in California a few years before relocating to Chicago for a job in construction. After about 20 years, he moved to Milwaukee, where he continued to work statewide as a drywall installer and remained a huge soccer fan.
He and his wife, Margarita Sepulveda-Avalos, met and married in Mexico in 2001, and she later joined him in the U.S. They have a 20-year-old daughter, but both women have returned to Mexico since Sandoval’s death, Andriusis said.
He said the whole family tested positive for COVID in November 2020. Roberto was hospitalized two weeks and later released, but returned to the hospital after his symptoms worsened. He was on oxygen and ultimately moved to a rehab facility when doctors thought he had stabilized, but died a few days later.
In June 2018, Pratik Patel, another dentist at Bright Dental, evaluated Sandoval and wrote that he had three broken or decayed upper teeth, numbers 6, 7 and 8, and needed a bridge from teeth 9 to 11.
A later version of the same notes, which Andriusis said Bright Dental turned over in discovery after Sandoval sued, says he needs a “full upper arch extraction.”
He returned in February for the work he expected on three teeth. Andriusis said after the extractions, Sandoval was bleeding from the mouth so badly he was kicked out of a Walgreens pharmacy because he was bleeding on the floor; Alsamarraie had sent him there for pain medication.
At home, things didn’t improve, so Sandoval returned to Bright Dental. Some of the openings were closed there, which slowed the bleeding. Sandoval remained in pain, felt weak and couldn’t eat. He went to the ER a few days later, Andriusis said.
When Sandoval returned to Bright Dental in April for his bridge or dentures, he was told he needed to heal more first, according to the clinic. Andriusis said Sandoval told him he never got past the front desk. He was told he had no more available insurance coverage.
Andriusis said Sandoval filed a complaint against Alsamarraie with the Department of Safety and Professional Services, which regulates dentists. The DSPS investigated Alsamarraie but has not posted any reports of discipline or sanctions.
In Wick’s brief on behalf of Alsamarraie, she argued Conen gave Sandoval more leeway than required, in allowing extra time and chances to show he had identified an expert who would support a claim that Alsamarraie’s extractions amounted to substandard care.
Wick also argued Andriusis did not adequately show there was good cause or excusable neglect to explain the delay, and what he tried was too vague and too late.
Further, Wick had argued the issue of informed consent is a part of a professional negligence or malpractice claim and requires an expert’s testimony, and that in his appellate brief, Andriusis relies on outdated legal standards.
If the Supreme Court considers the case and it returns to Milwaukee circuit court court, it won’t be heard by Conen. In the summer of 2020, he had announced he was resigning to join a Milwaukee law firm in November.
According to Andriusis’ brief in the case, Conen said at the Sept. 9, 2020 hearing the case needed to be over that day. He said it was the last time he’d be hearing it, and he didn’t want the case to transfer to a different judge.