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Nursing Liability
 This page was last updated on 15-Jun-02

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alpractice lawsuits - something we don't like to think about.  While almost all nurses go into the profession with a deep commitment and sincere desire to help people, there is a certain level of risk that comes with being a licensed healthcare professional that must not be underestimated.  Any nursing professional can be sued for malpractice, no matter how competent he or she may be.

According to the Nurses Protection Group, you can be sued if:
You make a mistake while observing a patient - or if someone thinks you did.
Someone claims you made an error in reporting or recording patient care details.
A doctor claims you misunderstood his directions.
A patient, or even the relative of a patient, claims you did not provide adequate patient care or  instruction.
You are off duty and you help someone with an injury or with any health matter at all.
You can also be sued if someone under your supervision makes a mistake. In addition, if

the doctor or hospital is sued instead of you, either of them could then turn around and sue you. Once you are sued, you may be required to go to court.  If the jury states that you did not provide "proper nursing procedures," you can be held personally liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, even if the jury members know nothing about nursing.  You can also be held criminally responsible.

This is not said to scare you.  Rather, the intent is to make sure you go into the profession with your eyes open.  The more you know, the better able you will be to act within the law and protect yourself against potential suits.

Most employers provide professional liability insurance coverage to their licensed healthcare employees. Many nurses also choose to supplement their employer's insurance coverage with a personal protection policy.  The following article by Charles W. Soucy, Vice-President and Principal of J. H. Albert International Insurance Advisors, Inc. outlines ways you can make sure your coverage is sufficient:
Nurses Professional Liability Insurance:
Don't Leave Home Without It!

The recent $8.5 million judgment against a Massachusetts hospital-employed nurse stunned the local nursing community when it was discovered that the hospital’s insurer had refused to pay the claim. The circumstances surrounding this case are admittedly unique. Nevertheless, as our society becomes increasingly litigious and managed care constraints are imposing increasing demands, nurses and health practitioners are growing targets for lawsuits.

As the Massachusetts case demonstrates, you shouldn’t completely rely upon your employer’s insurance to protect you. Things can go wrong. Coverage may fail, be inadequate, or worse, non-existent. You may have retired and be sued for an incident that happened years before. Your employer’s policy typically does not cover you for “moonlighting.” Even frivolous claims can be expensive to defend. What is a nurse to do?

First, have your employer provide you with written verification that (1) they do purchase malpractice insurance along with the limits of that coverage and (2) that you are personally covered under their policy. The verification can be in the form of a “certificate of insurance” that is common in the insurance industry. Have the certificate updated annually; you cannot assume that coverage will automatically be the same every year.

Secondly, consider supplementing your employer-provided coverage with your own policy. Depending upon where you live and your nursing specialty, you should be able to purchase coverage of $1 million for under $200 per year. Your various state or national associations typically endorse “group” coverage which you should investigate. In this regard, there are several buying tips to keep in mind...

Be aware of the difference between “occurrence” versus “claims-made” policies. Occurrence policies apply during the time that the alleged malpractice incident took place, even if the claim or lawsuit is not brought until years later. Conversely, “claims-made” policies apply at the time that the claim is brought against you, including retroactive coverage for prior activities, generally back to the date of your first policy with that insurer. So long as you initially purchase and continue with “claims-made” you should be able to maintain continuity of coverage for new and prior activities. However, when you retire or otherwise transfer from “claims-made” to “occurrence” your coverage for prior activities will discontinue unless you purchase an “extended reporting period.” This extends the time for claims resulting from prior activities to be covered. However, it is not automatic. You need to notify your insurer of your intent to purchase this extension when your policy is cancelled.

Not all insurance companies are created equal. Try to purchase coverage from an insurer who is “A+” rated by A. M. Best, which gives you a measure of comfort as to their financial stability. Also, try to purchase coverage from an insurer “admitted” to conduct business in your state. If they become insolvent, you will have the benefit of your State Insolvency Fund to pay unsatisfied claims.

In summary, don’t take for granted that your employer’s insurance will cover you in all instances. Verify annually that it provides you with reasonable protection. Then consider personal coverage as a supplement. These actions can hopefully give you the peace of mind to do what you do best!
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About The Author
Charles Soucy is Senior Consultant at J. H. Albert International Insurance Advisors, Inc. and head of its Healthcare Practice Group.  J. H. Albert is a Needham, Massachusetts-based independent risk management consulting firm providing services in property and casualty risk identification and assessment, insurance program design, and other related areas.  

Charles W. Soucy, CPCU
Vice-President and Principal
J. H. Albert International Insurance Advisors, Inc.
72 River Park
Needham Heights, MA 02494
Phone: (781) 449-2866 Fax: (781) 449-5340
Company website:  http://www.jhalbert.com



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