Should you have professional liability coverage?

Doctor and her lawyer thinking about how to solve the problem

When you are driving, how much control over other drivers, road conditions, the weather and other factors do you have? Do you drive without auto insurance because you “just know” you won’t get into an accident, or do you have coverage? Who is your insurer? How much coverage do you have? How do you report a claim? Most drivers know the answers or can at least pull the information quickly.

Now look at your professional practice and how you “drive” it. How much control do you have over work conditions, patient and family grievances, your employer’s policies and other factors? If you know for certain that you are covered with professional liability insurance through your employer, do you know how much the coverage is, who the insurer is and how to report a claim?

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One of the questions nurses ask me is whether I recommend they carry a personal professional liability policy. My response? How much do you value your professional credentials? Do you have enough money saved to cover judgments, claims and legal fees that may be levied against you? While some authorities see no need for individual coverage in areas with decreasing numbers of malpractice claims and caps on damages, threats to your license and professional livelihood come, like threats to your car, home and life, from many directions. Consider the following points.

  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of October 2016, the U.S. population is rapidly approaching 325,000,000 people. The Kaiser Foundation puts the number of Registered Nurses in the U.S. at just under 3,130,000 – not quite 1% of the population. Of these, the Department of Labor estimates that 85% are working as nurses. This calculates out to 0.8% — eight-tenths of one percent of the population are educated and able to care for the rest of the population.
  • There is already a shortage of Registered Nurses to care for existing patients. The need for more RNs will continue to rise as will the population and the nurse-to-patient ratio.
  • Science and technology advances flood healthcare each year, pushing tasks from other providers to RNs, enlarging the scope of practice and demanding more knowledge and critical thinking. Patient care is more complex. The risk for errors also increases.
  • Everyone has access to the Internet. Patients, families, other providers and the public expect more from RNs and complain more readily when reality and expectations don’t match. People are more aware of state licensing boards and are more willing to file complaints. It’s also a lot cheaper and easier to file a complaint with the Board of Nursing than to file a lawsuit.
  • Besides malpractice claims, nurses have had to defend against privacy violation claims, claimsPortrait of a young female doctor signing a document in her officefor improper supervision or delegation, slander and libel, assault and battery and even criminal charges. These claims come through the courts plus state and federal agencies. How do you defend against these and who pays your legal fees?
  • The National Practitioner Databank (NPDB) has tracked malpractice actions and professional licensing board actions for years in all states and territories. Most states have seen a significant increase in the number of adverse actions handled by Boards of Nursing at some point in the last 12 years, some as much as 300%. Nationwide, the number of complaints against nurses and adverse actions against them have jumped from 7,237 in 2004 to 12,287 in 2014 (2015 numbers will be available soon). This is a 70% increase. So, even if you are never sued for malpractice, you could face a complaint from the Board of Nursing at some point in your career.

Read Part Two: Is Your Employer’s Liability Coverage Sufficient?

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Disclaimer: This article is not legal advice. It is offered only as information about nursing topics of interest. If you have legal questions, please speak with a licensed attorney in your area. Neither the author or the website publisher are responsible for any actions a reader may take based on material in this article or on this website.

BJ Strickland

Beth J. (“BJ”) Strickland is from Tennessee. She is an RN with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in nursing and a Master’s degree in history from Vanderbilt University. She is also a licensed attorney with her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Tennessee. She has practiced nursing since 1976 and has experience in clinical nursing, administration and teaching in several clinical areas. She has practiced law in state and federal courts in Tennessee since 1996 with an interest in healthcare risk management, employment law and medical malpractice. She retired from the U.S. Army in 2015 as a Lieutenant Colonel. This article is not legal advice. It is offered only as information about nursing topics of interest. If you have legal questions, please speak with a licensed attorney in your area. Neither the author or the website publisher are responsible for any actions a reader may take based on material in this article or on this website.

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