What You Need to Know About Dental Malpractice and Tail Coverage

Oct 29, 2019 | Business Insurance

For many young and aspiring dental professionals in Denver, CO, or in any other state, not all are knowledgeable about dental malpractice and tail coverage or might need these in the future.

An Ancient Medical Profession

Dentistry is one of the oldest professions known to mankind. Early documentation about it can be traced to the Indus Valley Civilization dating back to 7000 BC. But it was only in 5000 BC that specific reference was made to tooth decay and practices resembling dentistry as we now know it.

Until the 1700s, the Sumerians believed tooth rot was caused by “tooth worms.” Even in Ancient Greece, Aristotle and Hippocrates wrote about this method, notably in the treatment of decaying teeth. Egyptian scribes of the 2600 B.C. era were the oldest known dental practitioners.

In 1530, the first book on Dentistry was published, entitled “The Little Medicinal Book for All Kinds of Disease and Infirmities of the Teeth.” The 1700s to the 1800s saw great progress with advances in Dentistry as a Medical Science and the advent of the invention and mass production of toothbrushes and toothpaste that were made available to the public.

Not even the most careful dental professionals are perfect,

which is why dental malpractice tail coverage is so valuable.

Modern Medicine

To date, and as with other fields of medical science, Dentistry has been an indispensable profession, providing pain alleviation, comfort, and of course, nice smiles to people. Over the years, the cost of getting dental treatment has become more and more affordable, making access to dentistry at arm’s reach to almost everyone on the planet.

A coin has two sides, and in the same manner, the practice of Dentistry is not all smiles and sunshine. It also has a dark side to it. Murphy’s Law, an old adage states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. The dental practitioner, with nothing but good intentions and a willingness to provide wellness and comfort to patients, may encounter snags or accidents that are at most unanticipated and unintentional. So in the course of his or her career or practice, getting sued by patients for Dental Malpractice is nothing out of the ordinary.

What is dental malpractice?

As with any other medical profession, there are certain accepted standards for patient care. Dental malpractice happens when these standards are deviated from, and a dental professional’s carelessness or negligence causes harm or death to a patient.

A Doctor’s Decision

Let’s provide a dental malpractice example. Patrick visits the dentist for a toothache despite taking painkillers. Patrick agrees to Dr. Smith’s recommendation to remove the tooth because he trusts his dentist’s judgment.

Dr. Smith prescribes Patrick painkillers and antibiotics after a successful procedure. After taking the drug, Patrick has trouble breathing and is allergic to it.

Mistakes occasionally happen, and a good dentist will always be there to make it right.

Click here to protect your patients and business!

What’s wrong in this scenario?

It is actually standard practice for a health professional to confirm if a patient is allergic to anything before prescribing any medication. It is part of due diligence that they ask questions to determine if any procedure or medication might pose potential health issues for their patients.

For instance, if they are going to inject the patient with a drug that causes an increase in heart rate, then one would expect the health professional to ask if the patient is hypertensive or is under any medication for hypertension.

But what if Dr. Smith did ask the relevant questions but Patrick wasn’t aware of any allergies? Obviously, whatever happens to Patrick isn’t going to be Dr. Smith’s fault. But it doesn’t mean Patrick cannot decide to file a malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Smith anyway.

Other than what happened to Patrick, the usual reasons why dentists get sued are due to adverse reactions to medications prescribed, accidental tooth drill injuries, and poor orthodontic work.

These may also include the following:

  • Absence of informed consent either by the patient or a legal guardian or representative
  • Failure to refer the patient to another medical specialist
  • Botched or erroneous tooth extraction and use of anesthesia
  • Inability or failure to identify, diagnose, and or treat Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorder, periodontal disease, oral tumor, or cancers
  • Even the mundane, such as injuries resulting from slips, falls, cuts while inside the dental clinic or office

The 2016 Dental Professional Liability Claim Report quantifies these incidents as follows:

  • Average legal fees to defend against a Dental Malpractice Suit – $24,794
  • Average payment attributed to a Dental Malpractice Claim – $83,120
  • Average payment attributed to an Endodontist Malpractice Claim – $174,119
  • Average payment attributed to an Oral Surgeon Malpractice Claim – $249,689
  • Average payment attributed to a Dental Malpractice Claim resulting from a patient’s death – $476,625

How much would you pay as a dental practitioner to have additional coverage

that protects your patients for any eventuality?

Possible Lawsuits

However, before any lawsuit may be filed against a dental practitioner, three conditions must be met.

  • There should be an existing, legitimate doctor-patient relationship. This establishes the dentist’s duty to care for and treat the patient.
  • A harmful action should be established, whether through malfeasance or misfeasance. This must highlight the deviation from acceptable standards of care.
  • Proof of damage or harm must be provided. Let’s say a patient was wrongfully prescribed medicine that caused no illness. In case of adverse reactions or health concerns, this does not constitute damage or harm done. If this is what happens, a malpractice lawsuit may not be filed.

If all the conditions are met, a lawsuit doesn’t immediately go to a jury. The “Discovery phase” brings the parties together. This includes “expert opinions or testimonies” from those involved. Most disputes are settled amicably.

Situations Relieved

Now, the question is, as a dental health practitioner, how does one get protection for potential costs brought about by a dental malpractice claim, should the issues not be resolved at the “discovery phase”? 

A dental malpractice insurance coverage helps protect a dental health practitioner from the potential costs of a dental malpractice claim, whether the accusation is legitimate or not. This protection covers physical harm, emotional stress, and property damage.

Now that it is quite clear how a dental health professional would benefit from dental malpractice coverage let us talk about a couple of other scenarios. What if your coverage ends tomorrow and there are times when claims would come a few weeks or even months after a procedure or treatment is done? Or what if you decide to change your insurance provider and are expecting to not have coverage for a couple of weeks?

You might also be interested to see this Guide to Dental Risk Management.

Know more about other liabilities that a dental practice or being a dental professional can face.

Types Of Malpractice Insurance

Malpractice insurance can either be “claims-made” or “occurrence” coverage. Let’s tackle the latter first. Claims submitted while occurrence insurance is in place payout whether the policy is still in force or not when a patient files claims. The event or misconduct must take place during the occurrence policy’s coverage period.

In other words, if I had an occurrence policy that went into effect a year ago today but expired yesterday, it would cover any malpractice claim made today or in the future for an incident two months ago (while the policy was still in effect).

The situation is more convoluted with a claims-made policy. The following (never one without the other) must be true for these plans to cover malpractice claims:

  1. The policy was in effect when the incident happened.
  2. The policy is still in effect when the lawsuit is filed.

One would reasonably wonder “What if the insurance had already expired by the time the case was filed?” We are all aware that there are situations in which the effects of malpractice don’t become apparent until much later. Here’s where things get interesting; enter, tail coverage.

Coverage under a claims-made policy can be extended beyond the typical policy term length at the dentist’s discretion. If Dr. Smith has a claims-made policy with a five-year tail coverage, he will be protected from any malpractice suits filed against him up to that point in time.

Claims-made insurance is cheaper, even with the addition of tail coverage, but having occurrence insurance is clearly preferable.

Did you know that adding dental malpractice tail coverage

to your dental insurance plan can help mitigate probable future risks

Dental Malpractice and Tail Coverage

So, tell me, what exactly is “Dental Malpractice Tail Coverage”? Dental professionals who have had claims paid out under their policy may be eligible for “tail coverage,” which provides further liability protection. If a former patient files a malpractice claim related to treatment received during the time the doctor was covered by his or her prior policy, this policy will kick in to protect the doctor.

We’re Here To Help

You’re here because you want to be sure your patients are covered if an error is made. Adding dental malpractice tail coverage to your insurance coverage can help mitigate risks. 

At Advantage Insurance Solutions (AIS) we can assure you of quality protection for individuals, families, and businesses in Denver, Colorado, and throughout the United States by helping you choose the best carrier for your insurance needs. Get a quote now, text or call us at (720) 221-816.

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