Should Dentists in One Office Have One Malpractice Insurer?

Laura Archer, Vice President of Underwriting, The Doctors Company

Protecting your practice against allegations of professional negligence is of the utmost importance in today’s litigious environment. One often overlooked strategy for a group practice is having all dental professionals covered by the same malpractice insurer. With a group policy, a practice can keep up with changes, avoid damaging conflicts, maximize chances for desirable outcomes when claims arise — and even potentially realize a positive impact on premium.

As your practice matures, the scope of services offered may change, and your insurance needs to change, too. Perhaps you’ll add some cosmetic services that may, or may not, be covered by your current malpractice policy. Perhaps new dental professionals will join the practice, necessitating insurance decisions.

Often, partners or new employees come into the fold having their own insurance, and they may resist changing carriers. This is understandable, but consider a simple claims scenario where having multiple carriers could cause things to go awry:

Two dental professionals are named in the same lawsuit, and each has their own malpractice carrier. The two carriers have a duty to vigorously defend their respective clients. Each carrier assigns legal representation — and each counsel has the same fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of their own client. What if the best outcome for one provider comes at the expense of the other?

Now, imagine two dental professionals are named in the same lawsuit, and each is named on the same group policy: A shared carrier may assign a single defense attorney to a case with multiple defendants — provided that there are no conflicts of interest — and if two defense attorneys are deemed necessary, having one carrier coordinate the defense effort is still beneficial. Avoiding the dreaded “finger pointing” at a provider can have positive results on the final case resolution.

Maintaining a group policy with one carrier also can simplify the handling of entity claims (i.e., claims against the corporation and not the provider). In such a scenario, the policy typically is issued in the name of the entity, and each dental professional is scheduled with his or her own limits of liability. Employed or contracted ancillary employees, such as dental hygienists and dental assistants, are almost always automatically covered by the base insurance contract language. Any economies of scale that can be achieved by a unified defense and/or a group policy can translate into a more favorable loss profile for a group, which may help stabilize the practice’s insurance premium.

Consider selecting a single carrier for your professional liability needs, and be sure to ask your licensed insurance agent about the benefits of a group policy — particularly if you believe your practice will grow in the future.

The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice, and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each healthcare provider considering the circumstances of the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.

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