Long Term Disability Claim Attorney for Dentists, Orthodontists, Periodontists and Other Dental Professionals 

Jason Newfield has represented many dentists, orthodontists, endodontists, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, hygienists, and other dental professionals who face several challenges with disability insurance that are unique to their profession. Dentists, like physicians, are an ideal client for LTD disability policies because of their high earnings potential. Contrary to logic and our experience, they are rated as a lower level of claim incidence and get preferred underwriting.

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Many new dentists purchase association LTD policies (currently insured by Protective Life Insurance) upon attaining their professional credentials and add individual or private policies along the way as their earnings increase. Unlike doctors, dentists are more likely to own their practice or work for a period of time for another professional before either becoming an equity partner or opening their own practice.

Despite the underwriting suggesting otherwise, the physical nature of dentistry makes injury and resultant disability a relatively common occurrence. The dentist must lean over the patient, applying pressure in a highly precise manner, holding dental instruments, typically at an awkward angle. No matter how ergonomically well-designed the patient’s chair may be, the dentist is almost always positioned in a way that requires back and shoulder strength as well as flexibility and strength in their arms, forearms, wrists, and hands. Holding fixed postures for periods of time further strain the upper extremities, resulting in neck problems in many dentists.  

Newfield Law Group has seen instances where disability insurance companies tell dentists how they should practice their profession so they can keep working regardless of the severity of their injury. They have engaged ergonomic experts to suggest changes in how the dentist should alter how they practice (often with dentists practicing one way for 20+ years).  The suggestions range from changing how patients are scheduled to avoid back-to-back lengthy chair time to changing how they perform procedures to be less stressful on the dentist. Insurance companies are not dentists, so these kinds of suggestions hold the potential to be harmful to patients or have a negative impact on the quality of care provided by the dentist. Often, they suggest that part-time work might be accomplished, forgetting that the fine motor skills, and tenths of millimeters for margin of error do not discriminate between working a little or working full-time. 

One thing must be clear – any healthcare professional who is not able to hold instruments, stand for the length of time required, etc., whether filling a cavity, performing a root canal, scaling, or performing oral surgery, should not be practicing if they are placing patients at risk of harm. Please call our office to discuss your disability insurance policy and what you can expect when filing a disability insurance claim.  We have seen these issues scores of times and can help navigate the process with you. 

Successful Representation of a General Dentist from New York

One of Jason Newfield’s dentist clients, 37 at the time of his claim, had severe carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of practicing dentistry. He had undergone numerous carpal tunnel release surgeries without any relief. Knowing that he was not going to be able to continue to practice, he engaged disability attorney Jason Newfield to help him navigate the disability process, while strategizing the sale of his practice and timing of his claim. 

During the disability claim process, Jason was able to overcome several efforts by his insurer to find support for a claim termination. These tactics included trying to rely upon a physical examination, and a subsequent upper extremity Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE). Jason was successful in rebutting those reports, securing further claim support from his client’s treating physician and attacking the validity of the findings from these evaluations. Our client continues to be paid by his disability insurance companies. 

A Personal Note Regarding Dental Professionals and Disability Claims

A member of the Newfield family was a practicing dentist who became disabled and was no longer able to perform the materials tasks and duties of their profession. Fighting against the disability insurance company for the family member’s claim was part of why Jason has spent his energies in this particular area of law and helping these types of professionals. He saw first-hand how unfairly the disability insurance company treated claimants and what they were up against. He has also seen how leaving the profession you spent so many years cultivating is challenging and carries empathy for his clients in this position. 

Many naively believe that the insurance they paid for will honor their promises, only to learn that a promise made is not always a promise kept. Jason holds the insurance companies to their promises.

This personal experience, combined with decades of representing dental professionals, has given Jason in-depth knowledge of the dental profession, from day-to-day operation of single and multi-doctor offices to how specific dental procedures impact the dentist’s back, shoulders, head, neck, arms, and hands. His prior work representing dentists in malpractice actions gives further insight into the nature of the work and how and why it is so impactful when a dentist has functional deficits. 

This in-depth knowledge of the business and clinical practice aspects of the dental field allows the Newfield Law Group to be very effective in claim presentations, negotiations and litigation against disability insurance companies on behalf of dentists.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) and the Dentist

Dentists suffering from CTS are often told they need to undergo carpal tunnel surgery in order to maintain their benefits.   They claim the policy permits the ability to dictate or mandate care (often surgery).  What does a dentist do when faced with this circumstance?

The dentist who undergoes carpal tunnel surgery will often have the surgeon state that surgery was successful, and then the dentist often returns to work facing a new set of problems. The same physicality and/or use of instruments that led to the CTS in the first place are going to be experienced again once they resume clinical practice. If the same repetitive motion or vibratory instruments are going to be used, the condition will likely return—or get worse. A New York Times article supports the concerns of anyone with CTS who returns to the same work, thereby aggravating their now surgically challenged hand/wrist/arm. So surgery, for carpal tunnel, for a dentist, is not usually going to lead long term to continue practice, as we have seen.

Even after undergoing surgery, the dentist may not experience any relief. The procedure may not have been done correctly, or perhaps they waited too long to undergo surgery. But typically the surgeon signs off on return to work.  It is also possible that the same or masked symptoms of CTS can arise from a different condition, such as cubital tunnel syndrome, cervical radiculopathy, or arthritis. And while the disability insurance company may accept a short-term disability claim following surgery, they will likely deny a long-term claim after surgery when the surgeon does not support continued impairment.   If post-surgical symptoms are pain and numbness in the extremities, which the insurance company considers subjective, you may well be facing another challenge for disability benefits after attempting to return to work.  We have worked with dentist clients to navigate these issues.

Just as a treating physician isn’t a disability insurance lawyer and can’t possibly know what information will support a claim and what will doom it, a surgeon doesn’t know that providing a return to work date can put your physical and financial health at risk.  And the fine motor skills needed may not be properly considered, addressed or articulated by the doctor, even if the doctor seeking to support the continued claim of the dentist.

Occupation Specific Disability Insurance Policies 

Most dentists own what are called “own occupation” disability insurance policies which specifically insure the dentist’s ability to practice as a dentist. But something is left out during the sales conversation. The dentist’s occupation at the time of the disability is what is being insured, not what the occupation is when the policy is purchased. The challenge facing dental disability claims occurs when dentists have involvement in managing their practices. Ensuring that the chair dentist is considered a chair dentist is part of the advocacy process with Newfield Law Group.

The disability insurance company, seeking to deny or limit claims, will make the argument on the concept of the dentist having not one but two occupations: their clinical practice and their management of the practice. This is often called “dual occupation” and is not where a claimant wants their claim to be considered.  A pivotal case concerning this issue for dentists is Shapiro v. Berkshire Life Insurance. The dentist owned his own practice and most of his time was spent on treating patients. He owned an “own occupation” disability insurance policy with Berkshire Life. 

When he filed a disability insurance claim due to osteoarthritis and spondylosis of the elbow, neck and other joints, Berkshire Life told him he was only partially disabled because he could still manage the practice. He was informed of his status as someone with two occupations: chairside dentistry and administrator/manager of the practice. 

The case went to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals after a Federal Court decided in the dentist’s favor, saying his duties were those of a dentist and the administrative time was not enough to be his real occupation. The Second Court of Appeals agreed; however, its decision was not 100% airtight for future claims. The court said in some cases the administrative and management responsibilities of the dentist might become the tasks of the insured’s occupation.   Thus, we must address what duties are being performed at the time of disability.  

Does the Disabled Dentist Need a Disability Insurance Attorney? 

Musculoskeletal injuries are common for dentists, making the success of their disability insurance policy claim extremely important to the dentist and their financial well-being.  Dentists also suffer from high levels of stress as they attend to the individual needs of each patient while making sure the office is run smoothly and that hygienists are performing well in their own tasks.

Dentists who practice on their own have concerns about filing for disability without knowing the claim will be approved. While we cannot “approve” your claim, working with us at the outset of the claim process with give your claim the best chance of succeeding.  With so much on the line, it is critical to be informed. Having an experienced disability insurance attorney on your side can alleviate the stress of filing a claim, fighting back if a claim has been denied or preparing for litigation if necessary. If you have concerns about your disability claim or are preparing to file a claim, and learn how we can help, at any state of the disability claim process. The call is free and there is no obligation. We have helped many like you and can help guide you through this challenging process.

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