Asset Protection and Lawsuit Prevention

Many dentists will never be sued. However, plaintiffs are winning significant (million-plus-dollar) judgments against dentists. Sometimes these lawsuits are initiated as a dental malpractice claim – failure to diagnose ailments; allergic reaction to anesthesia; or procedures resulting in nerve damage, to name a few. In truth, North Carolina is generally very friendly to dentists on the malpractice front. Our legislature has instituted tort reform caps for awards not associated with death or disfigurement. Thus, malpractice insurance is affordable, and the collateral effect is that we don’t see as many claims as other states. Nonetheless, dentists should take precautions in protecting their assets, since everyday they perform important medical procedures that run the risk of inciting a claim.

The other truth re: lawsuits: ANYONE CAN SUE ANYBODY FOR PRETTY MUCH ANYTHING! And, dentists are a rather vulnerable class of wage earners. We always tell our dentist clients that they are much more likely to be sued for something not associated with a patient’s dental procedure, and instead for some unrelated issue, e.g., an employee issue; a car wreck; a business dispute; a real estate dispute; a partnership dispute; an injured worker, etc. The possibilities are limitless – we’ve seen them all. And, again, it’s hard to express enough importance on the truism that dentists and physicians are easy targets. Plaintiff’s lawyers don’t sue poor people. They do sue doctors.

You’ve worked hard for what you own, and you want to keep it. An asset protection plan employs legal methods to deter others (greedy Plaintiff’s lawyers) from taking (or attempting to take) your assets. Asset protection programs can be simple, or complex, and always depend on the type and value of the assets.

Unfortunately, studies have shown that roughly fifty percent (50%) of dentists practice without the benefit of legal structures protecting their assets, leaving them vulnerable in a very litigious environment. These stats are alarming – as we’ve already made clear that dentists are prime targets.

Think about it – today, with the changes in general health care laws and the institution of the Affordable Care Act – very few physicians run their own shop. Most physicians and high-earning medical professionals work for a large health care provider, or group. Thus, medical doctors practice with built-in support and protection from the larger corporate form. Contra, dentists more routinely practice alone, or with a small group. They own their business; they own their building; and they own other assets that (according to studies) are not insulated from a lawsuit’s reach – even in cases that do not involve the dental practice. There are very few professions that are more vulnerable to lawsuits than dentists, and those professions ordinarily do not form a clean class (like dentists), they’re outliers.

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