As a practicing dentist, you could be involved in the litigation process at some point in your career. Lawsuits are quite expensive. Even if you win your case, your legal defense fees can be exorbitant. Fortunately, you can protect yourself and your business with insurance for dentists.
Oral surgeons are the most likely in the dental profession to have claims filed against them because they tend to perform more complicated procedures and frequently use anesthesia. However, orthodontists and general practitioners are also at a high risk for claims. Dental malpractice insurance is a type of professional liability insurance that protects most professionals in the dental industry.
There are two types of dental malpractice insurance:
Dental malpractice coverage will provide you with coverage for any dental malpractice judgments or settlements. It will also cover any related court costs and legal fees. Most dental malpractice insurance companies will provide you with lawyers.
This insurance coverage will also cover the cost of any necessary legal fees and consultations if you are subpoenaed to appear as a witness or dental expert in a court case. This may happen if a previous or current patient of yours is suing another dentist for malpractice or if the prosecution or defense wishes to establish proper protocol in certain dental cases.
There are many different reasons why a dentist may be sued for malpractice. Some of the most common reasons for professional liability lawsuits include:
Other common problems include adverse drug reactions, poor orthodontic work and drill injuries. Depending on the extent of the injuries and problems suffered by the patients filing the lawsuit, awards can be quite substantial.
Before a lawsuit can be brought against you, the patient must show three main things:
Once the lawsuit is filed, the malpractice case will enter the discovery phase. The attorneys assigned to you by your insurance company and those representing the plaintiff will take depositions from all parties involved as well as expert witnesses. You can be asked to provide the prosecution with all your patient documentation, so it is extremely important that you keep organized and well-maintained patient notes. If you fail to do so, or your records have been altered or completed after-the-fact, you could run into more legal trouble.
Most of the time, once the discovery phase is complete, the attorneys will either agree to drop the suit or will negotiate a settlement. Very few cases ever go to a juried trial.
Most dental malpractice insurance companies offer reduced rates to newly established dentists. Lower rates are typically in effect for the first five years you are in business. You may be eligible for discounts if you participate in an annual risk-management seminar or through your affiliation with your dental school if they have a partnership agreement with a dental malpractice insurance company.
Dental malpractice insurance rates can vary significantly from state to state, and policies for dentists in large metropolitan areas tend to be higher than in in rural areas. Recent dental school graduates can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $1,000 a year for a malpractice policy, depending on the coverage type and the amount of coverage purchased. After practicing five years, these policies will usually cost $2,000 to $3,000 a year.
In the end, it's very important to locate the best insurance for your practice and your risks. Evaluating the risks you face can be easier with some help, either from a lawyer or an insurance agent, or both. Researching the coverage options in your area could start with something as easy as a Google search, or calling around to colleagues you trust. Either way, it's very important to compare dental malpractice coverage before you buy, both from a cost and coverage perspective.