Dentist in Amber Athwal case denies any wrongdoing

An Edmonton dentist named in a $26.5-million lawsuit filed by the family of a young girl who stopped breathing during an office visit says if he is found negligent, the girl's parents should share the blame.

Amber Athwal was diagnosed with hypoxic brain injury after she stopped breathing during a visit to Dr. William Mather's office on Sept. 7 last year. She was under general anesthetic during an hour-long procedure to extract four teeth.

The girl was four years old at the time and has since turned five.

Her family alleges Mather and his staff failed to provide basic care, leaving Amber with "profound neurological injuries." None of the allegations have been proven.

In a statement of defence filed March 9, Mather and dental assistant Kim Kandora-Couvreur say the care they gave Amber "was at all times careful and appropriate in the circumstances and met the standard of care reasonably expected" of them.

They deny they were negligent or in breach of any duty or contract.

But they say that if they are found negligent, then Amber's father and mother, Ramandeep Singh and Arshinder Kaur, "are guilty of a substantial degree of contributory negligence" for failing to provide a proper medical history and accurate information about the food and beverages the girl consumed before Mather performed the tooth extractions.

In a statement of claim, the family says Amber's father told Mather before the procedure that she had eaten bread and milk, and possibly other food or drink, that morning.

In an interview Thursday, Singh said he is "deeply troubled" by Mather's statement of defence.

"It seems to suggest that somehow Amber and our family are responsible for Amber's injury and that she had some pre-existing illness that's responsible for her brain injury.

"We are upset and hurt by these statements, which serve to further victimize Amber and our family.

"The simple fact is that we placed our trust in Dr. Mather and his staff and fully expected that he had the training and the experience to safely perform the dental procedure that he recommended. We still stand by the comments made in our statement of claim and remain confident that justice will be served."

Registered nurse Tasneem Ali, who works with Mather, has also filed a statement of defence. Ali denies negligence and says her care for Amber was "at all times reasonable, skillful, careful and proper in every respect."

Ali's defence says Amber's parents caused or contributed to the girl's "injuries, losses or damages" by failing to disclose relevant information about what Amber had consumed before she attended the clinic, relevant details of her medical history, and other relevant information "known only by them."

The Alberta Dental Association and College started an investigation immediately after Amber's visit to Mather's downtown office.

The ADA&C will hold a hearing for Mather under the Health Professions Act starting Oct. 16. It is scheduled for three weeks.