Understanding Dental Malpractice Cases: Answers to Common Questions

April 24, 2024

Reading time: 4 minutes

The average dentist gets sued at least once in their career, and it’s important for dentists to be prepared in the event they must face a lawsuit. In this article, we’ll answer eight common questions about malpractice claims and lawsuits.

Key Concepts

  • Common questions about dental malpractice claims
  • Understanding dental malpractice claims and lawsuits
  • Malpractice litigation and claims defense
  1. Where do I begin if I’ve been sued by a patient?

    The first thing you should always do when notified of a lawsuit is contact your malpractice insurance carrier. They will help you manage claims and defend yourself throughout a lawsuit.

  2. How can I evaluate my insurance company’s claims expertise?

    It is extremely important to select a malpractice insurance company with expertise in malpractice litigation. The company should understand the venue, specific state laws, as well as clinical practice standards in your state.

    Your dental malpractice insurance company should also have a proven track record of defending (and winning) malpractice claims. Some key statistics to ask for are the company’s trial win rate and number of claims closed without payment. Both numbers should be high. At MedPro Group, we close 80% of claims without payment and win 95% of dental claims that make it to trial.

  3. What tends to be the most surprising/unexpected aspect of the claims process for insureds?

    The length of the process is usually the most unexpected part. It can take months or years for a resolution to come after a claim, especially if legal action is taken. Lawsuits prolong the process and typically take a year and a half to two years to resolve. Some lawsuits take even longer than that. Additionally, delays along the way are inevitable and contribute to a prolonged claims process.

  4. What is the difference between a claim and a lawsuit?

    Both a claim and a lawsuit are legal demands for compensation, but the difference lies in where and with whom the negotiations and resolution take place.

    A malpractice claim is an accusation of negligence that is brought against a dentist by a patient or a patient’s attorney. Claims can be resolved in a variety of ways including dismissal, withdrawal, and settlement. Settlement occurs between the two parties through the dentist’s malpractice insurance carrier and the patient or their attorney. Most claims do not escalate to legal action.

    A lawsuit is a filed legal action within the court system that is brought against a dentist by a patient or a patient’s attorney. In dental malpractice cases, a lawsuit accuses a dental provider of negligence and alleges that their actions led a patient to suffer harm. Lawsuits are either settled by lawyers through negotiations outside of court or resolved by trial and jury verdict. The trial will lead to a determination of damages owed.

  5. What is the best way to manage the stress of a claim/potential lawsuit?

    Claims and lawsuits can be extremely emotionally draining. The stress of facing a claim can impact your life and your practice. It is important to gather a support group, whether that is friends or family, who you can lean on for the duration of the claims or litigation process. There is never any shame in reaching out to a mental health professional if you feel you need more outside support.

    Keep in mind that it may go against legal advice to discuss the details of your case with others. Confer with your claims consultant/attorney before disclosing any information about your case to anyone.

  6. What is the most important thing to avoid doing when sued by a patient?

    Never alter any records that pertain to the incident in the lawsuit and the plaintiff in general. Altering records will almost certainly have problematic consequences, which could affect litigation.

  7. Who will communicate with me if I face a claim or am sued?

    There are a few channels of communication that will need to be active when facing a claim or a lawsuit. First, always report a claim or lawsuit to your malpractice insurance carrier as soon as you receive notice of it. From your malpractice insurance carrier, you will be in contact with a claims consultant who will help manage the claim and advise you.

    If you have been sued, you will be in close contact with your appointed attorney, who will guide you through the litigation process and work on your defense.

  8. How can I best prepare for a lawsuit?

    The best way to prepare for a lawsuit is to follow the advice of counsel and work with your insurance carrier. Taking matters into your own hands is never a good idea – you can trust that your malpractice insurance carrier has the expertise and experience to help you through a lawsuit.

    Facing a dental malpractice claim or lawsuit can be a traumatic experience. By understanding the answers to these common questions, you can be better prepared and practice with greater peace of mind.

Additional Claims content


Proper communication between dental providers is essential when referring a patient for a procedure. In this case study, a dentist refers a patient to an oral surgeon for a tooth extraction, but a miscommunication between the providers causes the oral surgeon to extract the wrong tooth.


Informed consent is one of the most important aspects of dental care. When performing a procedure, ensuring through verbal agreement and documentation that a patient understands all possible negative outcomes is the best way to protect yourself against claims of negligence and malpractice lawsuits. In this case study, a dentist’s informed consent documentation becomes key when she is sued over a patient’s loss of taste after a procedure.


In dental practices, there are a variety of numbering systems that are used to identify teeth, which can lead to miscommunication and mistakes. In this case study, an orthodontist refers a patient to their general dentist for a tooth extraction. Upon receipt of the referral, there is a miscommunication with the orthodontist’s staff and the dentist mistakenly extracts the incorrect tooth.

This document does not constitute legal or medical advice and should not be construed as rules or establishing a standard of care. Because the facts applicable to your situation may vary, or the laws applicable in your jurisdiction may differ, please contact your attorney or other professional advisors if you have any questions related to your legal or medical obligations or rights, state or federal laws, contract interpretation, or other legal questions.

MedPro Group is the marketing name used to refer to the insurance operations of The Medical Protective Company, Princeton Insurance Company, PLICO, Inc. and MedPro RRG Risk Retention Group. All insurance products are underwritten and administered by these and other Berkshire Hathaway affiliates, including National Fire & Marine Insurance Company. Product availability is based upon business and/or regulatory approval and/or may differ among companies.

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