This blog about choosing a dental malpractice insurance carrier was written by Al Anthony Mercado, Esq., managing attorney of the downstate region of the law firm Mercado May-Skinner (MMS) and an employee of MLMIC Insurance Company.

As a dentist, you work hard to maintain a successful practice and deliver excellent dental services to your patients. Unfortunately, in the litigious New York malpractice environment, there is a good possibility that you will eventually face a dental malpractice claim. Similarly, legislation such as Lavern’s Law and the pending Grieving Families Act expand the time to sue for malpractice and recoverable damages.

The best initial way to protect yourself against a dental malpractice claim is to choose the right malpractice carrier. Below are five basic qualities to look for when choosing a dental malpractice insurance carrier.

Claims Experience

A dental malpractice insurance carrier’s presence and experience in New York State, and especially in your local area, is extremely important for the handling of malpractice claims. Knowledge of the litigious New York malpractice environment (including the laws, courts, judges, attorneys and damage values) is especially important to successfully defending a dental malpractice claim. Presence alone is not enough — look at how long an insurance carrier has been in the New York State insurance market and their claim results.

Financial Strength, Stability and AM Best Rating

Financial strength and stability are additional key considerations for choosing the right dental insurance carrier. You certainly do not want to learn of your insurance carrier’s financial instability while facing a claim of malpractice. Financial strength and stability can demonstrate an effective history in handling past claims as well as the ability to successfully defend future claims.

A key indicator of an insurance carrier’s financial strength in the market is its AM Best rating. AM Best is a global credit rating agency specializing in the insurance industry. When an insurance carrier has a superior AM Best rating of A+ or better, it is a strong indication of its stability and strength in the marketplace. Although it should not be the only factor when evaluating an insurance carrier’s financial strength and stability, it should be a primary consideration in choosing the right professional liability insurance carrier.

Insurance Policies, Discounts and Cost

The “Two C’s,” choice and cost, are important considerations when choosing an insurance carrier. Some specific considerations include:

  • Availability of claims-made and occurrence policies
    • An occurrence policy covers a physician for any incident that occurs during the policy period regardless of when the malpractice claim is filed. Accordingly, it will continue to provide coverage even after a policy ends.
    • A claims-made policy, however, will only provide coverage if both the alleged malpractice took place and the claim is filed during the policy period.
  • Availability of consent and non-consent to settle policies
  • Availability of coverage for professional entities and employees
  • Availability of various discount programs, like new dentist discounts

You should keep two sayings in mind when considering cost: “Penny wise, pound foolish” and “an educated consumer is the best customer.”Cost is an important consideration but should not be the only one. When comparing costs, make sure that you are getting the same protection and services.

Risk Management Education and Services

Malpractice claims begin during the treatment of a patient. Education and training on risk mitigation strategies have been shown to be an effective tool for dentists to avoid claims and/or lower damages. In addition, the availability of an insurance carrier’s legal team (which is well-versed in New York law) can prove to be valuable in situations leading to potential malpractice claims — think unexpected or bad outcomes, dissatisfied or difficult patients, refunds and regulatory questions.

Fighting for the New York Dental Community

A final consideration in choosing the right dental malpractice insurance carrier is determining whether the carrier is invested in fighting for the interests of New York State dentists.

  • Is the carrier active in fighting legislation that would expand dental malpractice liability, like the pending Grieving Families Act?
  • Does the carrier have a record of fighting for tort reform and supporting legislative efforts to lessen malpractice for the dental community?
  • Has the carrier partnered and collaborated with organized dentistry to lessen malpractice liability?
  • Has the carrier regularly engaged in risk management education to help mitigate claims and/or liability?

Partnering with a carrier that supports the dental community makes you part of a team fighting for tort reform.

Choosing a dental malpractice insurance carrier is an important decision in your professional career. Choosing the right one based upon the considerations above will afford you support and guidance before claims occur, provide you with strategies to avoid malpractice claims and give you protection and peace of mind in the unfortunate event you are the subject of a malpractice claim.

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