After a successful lobbying effort by a victim of dental malpractice and her husband, Pennsylvania finally has a law, which goes into effect next week, requiring all dentists to carry malpractice liability insurance.
As described by an article in the Reading Eagle, Margaret Feinberg, whose husband is a physician, was the victim of dental surgery malpractice by a dentist who allegedly held himself out as a board-certified prosthodontist. It turned out that the dentist wasn't board-certified and, even worse, he didn’t carry any form of malpractice insurance to compensate the patient he injured with his negligence. Now, he has been sued by multiple former patients, but, because he has declared bankruptcy, it’s unlikely any of his patients will receive anything more than a trivial sum of money, if they receive anything at all.
As a result of their experience - and their discovery that nearly one in twenty dentists in Pennsylvania had no liability insurance - Ms. Feinberg and her husband began lobbying Pennsylvania state representatives and the Governor to pass a law requiring dentists purchase liability insurance. That law was passed in early July, with an effective date 60 days from the signing, which would be next week.
Doctors and other healthcare providers like dentists often complain that, if they don’t have insurance, then they could be exposed to personal liability in the event of a malpractice lawsuit. But the truth is that malpractice insurance does more to protect patients than healthcare providers, because healthcare providers are already protected by the provisions of the bankruptcy code. When a doctor declares bankruptcy, they almost always get to keep their personal property, their home, and their car, and they get to “discharge” all civil judgments for negligence - including judgments for malpractice damages.
Thus, many cynical dentists chose not to have any insurance coverage at all, because it was cheaper to do so, and they knew the bankruptcy code would protect them, leaving their patients holding the bag for their lost wages, medical expenses (to treat the malpractice), and other damages.
As attorneys who represent malpractice victims, including the victims of dental malpractice, we applaud the Pennsylvania legislature and the Governor for stepping in and protecting patients, by ensuring that, if they are injured by dental malpractice, they will have some compensation available to them.