Unlike other types of optional insurance policies, malpractice insurance for dentists may be required, meaning to become licensed as a practicing dentist, you may need this coverage.
Therefore, depending on where you practice, your choice regarding malpractice insurance isn’t whether or not to purchase a policy. Instead, it’s choosing which provider and the type of coverage you need to protect yourself from potential legal action.
Explore some factors that matter when selecting a provider and other important information about malpractice insurance in this comprehensive outline.
What Is Malpractice Insurance for Dentists?
Malpractice insurance, which is also called professional liability insurance, is basically protection against a malpractice claim. If someone files a lawsuit alleging that you were negligent while performing dental services, this insurance may step in and help you cover the fees to protect yourself in court along with other policy-outlined provisions.
What Is Entity Malpractice Coverage and How Does it Differ?
Entity malpractice coverage is similar to basic malpractice insurance. However, it expands the coverage to include your business entity. To ensure you are protected should someone name your entity as part of their malpractice claim against you, you need an entity policy to cover the fees associated with that portion of the claim.
This is important coverage because even if you are not personally found liable of wrongdoing in a malpractice lawsuit, your practice can still be held responsible for damages. You can opt for entity coverage as part of your professional liability insurance policy or purchase separate coverage to protect your entity.
Why Is Malpractice Insurance so Important?
It Could Be Required to Get Licensed
As mentioned above, having malpractice insurance may be a requirement before you can become a licensed dentist.
It Protects Your Dental Career’s Future
Although you hope to never use your malpractice insurance because of someone filing a lawsuit against you, having it there can protect you against exorbitant fees and claim expenses associated with a malpractice lawsuit. Not to mention it provides you with a legal professional to fight on your behalf against invalid allegations.
Malpractice Suits Are Likely More Common Than You Imagine
It surprises many people to learn that malpractice suits are far from uncommon. In fact, Sara Charles, an MD Physician with the Litigation Stress Resource Center, (2) said that there were 16,337 instances of medical malpractice payments between 2006-2017 out of the 19,755 working dentists. This means that the chance of you facing a malpractice lawsuit may be more likely than you would guess, making malpractice insurance an important protection.
Litigation Stress Increasingly Impacts Dental Professionals
Litigation stress is the negative emotional and physical reaction that comes after the accusation of a lawsuit or is brought on by the fear of subsequent suits being filed. Of all lawsuit defendants, some 95% said they had some measurable physical or emotional reaction to facing a lawsuit. (3) Litigation stress can negatively affect your ability to cope with normal events, communicate as you should with others and impedes your ability to concentrate, negatively impacting your ability to do your job.
Thankfully, having protection in the form of malpractice insurance may help calm these fears. Although malpractice insurance won’t prevent someone from trying to sue you for malpractice or ensure they won’t accuse you of wrongdoing, it may help alleviate some of the stress and fear of dealing with such a situation. Knowing you have someone on your side can make all the difference in keeping litigation stress at bay.
What Is and Isn’t Covered Under Malpractice Insurance?
Of course, your individual plan will be based on your specific needs and might differ in terms of what is and is not covered. However, in general, the following aspects of a malpractice suit may be covered at least in some form by malpractice insurance: (4)
- Damages, should you be found liable for malpractice
- Expenses associated with either settling or defending malpractice suits
- Settlement costs
- Arbitration costs
- Medical damages
- Compensatory and punitive damages
If your malpractice lawsuit is the result of any of the following or involves any of the following acts, it is likely considered “not covered” under your malpractice policy: (4)
- Inappropriate alteration of medical records
- A criminal act of some sort
- Sexual misconduct
Digging Deeper into Malpractice Insurance Coverage Specifics
Obviously, during the midst of a lawsuit is not the time to inquire about your malpractice insurance coverage. After all, by this point, there is no way to make alterations to your policy and you are stuck with the coverage amounts and limits you have. Instead, you should consider getting ahead of the issue either when setting up your policy or after the fact through policy review.
This is important because you can review whether your insurance policy fits your current practice needs and is not based on factors that could be drastically different at the present time. It’s also a good idea to periodically evaluate the insurance company you are using to determine whether you are insured by a company that you consider to be appropriate for your needs.
Understand that you can be held personally liable for judgments that come in above your policy limits. This further substantiates the importance of understanding your policy well and setting your coverage limits wisely. While this is a scary proposition to be sure, don’t fret. Instead, review whether your coverage limits are high enough to adequately protect you and your practice.
Malpractice Insurance Standard Provisions
Dental malpractice insurance can be somewhat confusing. However, there are some standard provisions within most policies that are less complicated. You may want to familiarize yourself with these standards before purchasing a new malpractice policy or when you review your current one.
Consent to Settle
You should find out who determines if a claim should be settled. Do you decide? Is it up to the carrier? How much control do you have in terms of settling? The consent to settle provision is important to determine before you face an actual claim. It’s important to inquire about this because some policies don’t give you the final say in a settlement.
What about Sedation Surcharges?
Some professional liability policies demand updates regarding the types of procedures you use, among other variables like your practice location. This could mean you have to pay a surcharge for using certain types of dental sedation during procedures. In fact, some types of sedation are completely excluded from coverage. Therefore, it’s important to ask about the specific standard provision for any new or updated malpractice plan.
Claims-Made Versus Occurrence Coverage
You also need to determine if you want a claims-made policy or an occurrence policy as these are the two main types of coverage available. Claims-made means you have coverage if a claim is made during a predetermined coverage period. Occurrence coverage differs in that it covers you if the actions giving rise to the claim occurred during your coverage period, even if the claim is made after your policy term.
Your Next Step: Planning for the Unpredictable
As mentioned above, having malpractice insurance is pretty much a given. Who you choose to work with for said insurance, though is optional. Choosing a malpractice insurance policy, backed by a long-standing company may be important. This shows a history of understanding malpractice cases and can provide you protection should you face a malpractice suit. After all, your malpractice coverage is only as strong as the company providing said coverage.
Treloar & Heisel has been around for over 60 years, and we work to provide dentists with appropriate malpractice insurance coverage from malpractice insurance companies that have been in the business for decades. Use this free malpractice survival kit ebook to learn even more about malpractice insurance, its importance, and the various types of coverages available.
While you never plan to face a lawsuit and hope you never find yourself in such a situation, you should consider planning for the unpredictable now, not in the midst of the chaos. Don’t wait until you are facing the force of a full legal attack to get malpractice coverage or to alter your current policy for more comprehensive protection.
Treloar & Heisel and Treloar & Heisel Property and Casualty are divisions of Treloar & Heisel, Inc.
Insurance products are offered through Treloar & Heisel, Inc.
Treloar & Heisel, Inc. and its divisions do not offer legal advice.
This information is provided for general informational purposes only. These definitions are not binding contract definitions. You should review your policy to determine the binding contract definitions. Please review with a licensed insurance professional.