Dentists in Florida often hesitate to report a potential claim to their dental malpractice insurance company. They are either afraid that their malpractice insurance policy will be cancelled or they fear losing their claims-free credits. They may be concerned about their reputation or their ability to find work. We certainly understand a dentist’s reluctance to report a potential claim to his malpractice insurance carrier. In spite of this, we strongly encourage him to report it. A quality dental malpractice insurance policy is written with an “incident trigger”, meaning that the company will defend any incidents reported to it during the policy term. This applies even if the dentist has moved to another dental malpractice insurance carrier, has dropped his coverage, or is retired.
Most dental malpractice insurance policies require that the insured dentist report incidents that are reasonably expected to lead to a claim and must report the incident in a timely manner. Of course, the definition of what is “reasonably” expected to lead to a claim is vague. They still need to err on the side of reporting it. The dental malpractice insurance policy goes on to require that the insured not engage in conduct that prejudices the company’s ability to defend a claim. Failure by the dentist to give timely notice to the carrier could well be seen as prejudicing the claim.
If the patient of a dentist makes comments that would cause the dentist to believe a claim could result, the company should be notified. If a patient requests records following an unintended outcome, this could raise a red flag. Certainly, if the insured dentist receives a request for records from a plaintiff attorney’s office in connection with a bad outcome, a red flag is raised and the dentist should report the incident to the dental malpractice insurance carrier right away.
We have seen cases where the dental malpractice insurance carrier has been able to help the dentist avoid a claim if contacted immediately following an adverse outcome. The defense team in the claims department is skilled in helping the dentist secure the best possible outcome. Often, this simply involves interacting with the patient in an empathetic, responsible, timely manner.
Of course, there is a downside to reporting all incidents that could theoretically lead to an actual claim. Too much reporting could jeopardize a dentist’s ability to keep quality coverage. If he is non-renewed by a dental malpractice insurance carrier, it will be difficult for him to secure coverage in the standard market.
It is best to call our office and discuss your particular situation with an experienced dental malpractice insurance agent.