Malpractice Insurance

Malpractice Insurance – Yes, You Need It

Submitted by: Stacey R. MacNeal, Esquire
PDHA Legal Counsel

If you follow doctor’s orders or monitor patients’ reactions to treatment, you are at risk of being sued for malpractice. Think you’re covered by your dentist’s policy? Don’t count on it.

You have no control over the type of coverage that your dentist is maintaining or whether she has even made the premium payment. Why put your financial future in someone else’s hands when you can have your own insurance coverage for less than $1 per day.

More and more dental hygienists are purchasing their own individual malpractice policies rather than depending on their employer to cover them in the event they are named in a lawsuit. There are many reasons for protecting yourself with an individual policy that insures just you, but one of the most compelling reasons is the peace of mind that comes with knowing your best interests will be served if you are named in a lawsuit and the ability to choose a policy that best covers your needs.

The benefits afforded by different policies may be miles apart. You should be aware of some of the coverage options available to you. All policies include a limit of professional liability that usually consists of an amount of coverage per occurrence and a total amount of coverage for all incidents in a given time period. The per occurrence amount is the maximum amount an insurance company will pay on your behalf if you are found to be negligent in any one medical incident. The annual aggregate is the maximum they will pay for all incidents during the policy period.

Personal Injury Protection may also be included in an individual malpractice policy. This coverage protects you in a lawsuit resulting from allegations of personal injuries like breach of a patient’s privacy or confidentiality, slander and libel during the performance of your professional services. This coverage part is usually consistent with your professional liability coverage limits.

While most, if not all, individual malpractice policies will provide you with an attorney to defend your case, some policies handle the expenses of the lawyers differently. A policy that deducts these costs from your limit of liability will obviously leave you with less money to pay for any judgment against you. A policy that pays all legal expenses in addition to your liability limit is broader in scope because there is no dilution of the money available to pay any malpractice awards.

If sued, you may be attending pre-trial proceedings as well as a court trial. This could involve you taking time off from work and travel expenses. Reimbursement for lost wages and other expenses you may incur during this time-consuming process is a coverage option.

Inadequate employer-provided coverage can leave unexpected expenses for you to pay. If you are named in a malpractice lawsuit and your legal costs and settlement or judgment exceed your employer’s coverage limits, you may need to make up the difference.

There are many other benefits to coverage as well. If you would like to provide much-needed volunteer services, malpractice insurance is generally a requirement. You’re protected for emergencies as well. Also, it appears that the State Board of Dentistry may be moving to allow dental hygienists to administer local anesthesia. It is expected that insurance will be a requirement for this certification.

In any case, as a dental health professional, it is merely common sense that you should be maintaining malpractice insurance. Dental hygienists are likely to be drawn into litigation where there has been a bad result and may find their position directly at odds with that of the supervising dentist. Having a separate insurance policy may be your saving grace in that situation.

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