A dentist who owns a practice may be vicariously liable for the actions of a staff member if:
- The staff member was negligent;
- The staff member was acting within the scope of his or her employment;
- A patient was injured as a result; and
- The staff member was not an independent contractor.
Associate dentists are almost always independent contractors, so a principal dentist would not be vicariously liable for an associate’s malpractice.
Other health professionals, such as dental hygienists and registered nurses, may or may not be employees, but dental assistants, receptionists and treatment co-ordinators usually are. Because regulated health professionals (e.g., hygienists, physicians, nurses and denturists) are required to carry their own malpractice coverage, they are not eligible for PLP assistance. In contrast, employees who are non-regulated health professionals are protected by PLP for activities related to the practice of dentistry. Further, PLP would defend a vicarious liability claim against a principal dentist for an employee’s negligence, whether or not the employee was a regulated health professional.
Proper hiring, training and supervision of dental office staff is critical in mitigating the risk of a finding of vicarious liability. Effective risk management also requires that practice owners ensure that all non-dentist regulated health professionals they employ have adequate malpractice protection.
If you are still not sure about whether, and to what extent, PLP may assist an employee accused of negligence, contact us and ask to speak with an advisor.