Do Dental Hygienists Need Malpractice Insurance?

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Is Dental Malpractice Insurance Really Necessary for Hygienists?

If you're new to the dental field, you might be wondering whether hygienists actually need dental malpractice insurance. Many people think malpractice liability insurance is only necessary for doctors doing life-or-death surgery every day. However, the reality is that it might be helpful for just about every healthcare worker.

Whether you need malpractice insurance and if so, how much insurance you need will depend on your unique situation. This guide will go over dental malpractice insurance for hygienists and help you figure out if you should get it.

Can You Sue a Dental Hygienist?

To understand why professional liability insurance might be a good idea, it's helpful to see what can happen without it. The main thing dental hygienists need to be cautious about is lawsuits. A lawsuit is a possibility any time someone is injured at the dentist's office. If the hygienist is at fault, they might get sued.

Legally speaking, hygienists have a duty to provide patients with safe, appropriate medical care. If a negligent hygienist fails to behave responsibly, and a patient is harmed, the patient can sue them. The lawsuit will then go to court, and if the judge or jury finds the hygienist liable for the injury, they might have to pay the patient a lot of money.

There are all sorts of ways that a hygienist can get sued. For example, if a hygienist mistakenly uses the wrong tool and damages a patient's gums, they might get served with a lawsuit. Hygienists could also be named in a lawsuit if they fail to maintain equipment properly, mix up a patient's documents, or ignore obvious signs of oral disease. Any poor behavior that harms a patient's physical, financial, or emotional health can lead to a lawsuit.

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Are You Legally Required to Have Dental Malpractice Insurance?

As you've noticed, it's surprisingly easy for a hygienist to get sued. If you do become involved in a lawsuit, having malpractice insurance helps you pay for legal fees, potential settlements, or court-ordered compensation. Though malpractice insurance is definitely helpful, is it absolutely necessary? In many states, the answer to that question is "no."

Legal requirements vary based on your location and local laws. In most cases, hygienists themselves are not legally required to have malpractice insurance. In fact, some regions don't even require dentists to have healthcare malpractice insurance. In states like California and Texas, a dentist or any other related employees can choose to entirely skip this type of insurance.

What Types of Hygienists Need Dental Malpractice Insurance?

Hygienists tend to operate in a gray area where they can be considered either an independent healthcare provider or an employee. So are dental hygienists subject to liability, or is it really the owner of their practice who will get sued? The answer to this question varies on a case-by-case basis.

Dental hygienists as employees

The most common type of dental hygienist is an employee at a specific practice. They work under the supervision of a dentist, and they were hired specifically for working regular hours at that office. These hygienists are less likely to need malpractice insurance, though it can still be helpful.

In this sort of case, a hygienist might have at least partial coverage from their employer. Legally speaking, employers are responsible for hiring competent employees, so if an employee messes up, the business might get sued. Therefore, a lot of dental malpractice insurance will cover the actions of the dentist and everyone else in their office. However, keep in mind that there are some limitations to this coverage, which we'll provide more detail on in a bit.

Dental hygienists as independent contractors

Other hygienists work as independent contractors. They might temp as a full time hygienist at a dental office, but they have not been hired as an independent employee. This sort of hygienist is technically an independent healthcare provider, so they are responsible for their own malpractice insurance.

In these situations, hygienist liability insurance is even more important. The dental office's medical liability insurance usually does not cover the actions of contractors. Therefore, if a hygienist gets sued, they are left to pay the legal fees and any court-ordered compensation on their own.

Is Dental Malpractice Insurance Worth It?

To decide whether liability insurance is worth it, you have to weigh the cost of insurance against the potential risk of a lawsuit. How much is dental malpractice insurance? For an individual hygienist, it's actually pretty cheap. On average, most hygienists pay $100 or less per year for malpractice insurance.

Meanwhile, the average cost for losing a dental malpractice lawsuit is around $53,000. Even if the case is dropped or dismissed, it still costs between $2,000 and $5,000 to handle all the resulting legal fees. This means that if you get even one malpractice case in the course of your entire career, liability insurance is probably worth it.

Malpractice cases might be more common than you think. It's tempting to assume, "I'm a great hygienist, I don't need to worry about a malpractice suit!" However, there's all sorts of situations where you can end up in a lawsuit. Something like a clumsy patient hitting their own head on your light can be enough to trigger a suit.

Does Employer-Provided Malpractice Insurance Give Enough Coverage?

If your employer says that they provide you with malpractice insurance, you might think you are in the clear. However, it's important to talk to the employer and take a close look at the policy. Many employer-provided malpractice insurance policies are just blanket coverage for the whole office. This type of policy is useful, but it does have some limitations.

One of the main issues is simply malpractice coverage limitation. A policy will only cover malpractice lawsuit costs up to a certain amount. In cases where a hygienist and dentist are being sued together, the dentist is usually the primary defendant, so their costs are handled first. If total costs exceed coverage limits, hygienist co-defendants can end up having to pay the extra money themselves.

Another problem arises when a hygienist ends up being sued while their employer is not. In some cases, the coverage might not even apply because the dentist isn't included in the suit. Even if the insurance does still cover the cost, the insurance carrier may be able to sue the hygienist to recoup their costs from the lawsuit.

Due to these issues, it may be better for employees to get a policy specifically for each hygienist. These hygienist-specific policies provide better coverage and give valued employees peace of mind.

How to Pick the Best Malpractice Insurance for a Dental Hygienist

The most important thing for dental malpractice insurance is simply selecting the policy with a reasonable cover limit. You want something high enough to cover your potential costs without being unreasonably pricey. You'll also need to pick what type of coverage you want. There are two different options available, and the right choice for you will depend on your situation.

Claims made policy

A claims made policy gives coverage for any claims made while your policy is intact. As long as you have a policy, you get coverage from liability cases. This policy will not provide malpractice insurance once you move to another policy or quit your career as a hygienist.

Claims made can be helpful because it's more affordable. More companies offer this type of coverage, so it can also be a little easier to find a good policy. The one downside is that it will not cover claims that are made after you cancel the policy even if the event happened while you were covered. Fortunately, tail coverage can protect you from being sued retroactively.

Occurrence policy

Occurrence insurance coverage is a type of policy that provides coverage for any malpractice suits related to events that occurred while your policy was active. This means that if someone sues you for any issue that took place during the course of your policy, the insurance carrier will help with costs.

Occurrence policies can be helpful because they give you full coverage for a specific amount of time. If someone makes a claim after you end the policy, you still get help with the malpractice costs. This benefit does come at a slightly higher price initially. However, once you factor in tail coverage, it can be comparable to claims made insurance.

At CoverWallet, we're here to answer any questions you might have about selecting medical malpractice insurance for dental offices, dental laboratories, and more. Our team can explain how dental liability works and discuss the type of coverage you need. Give us a call at (646) 844-9933 to schedule a free consultation today.

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