New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA)
REPORT: April 2003
Malpractice Insurance: Having your own policy is a NECESSITY!
by Mark Genovese
You may never have to use a professional liability policy, but it is extremely risky not to have one. You may have heard your nursing representative give a talk about individual insurance, but NYSNA can't emphasize its importance more.
"One question frequently raised when NYSNA delivers practice and malpractice workshops is: 'Do I really need my own personal liability coverage, since my employer covers me?'" said Janet Haebler, senior associate director of NYSNA's Practice and Governmental Affairs program. "Employers often tell their nurses that additional liability coverage is unnecessary. But when performing competently within their legal scope of practice, nurses are vulnerable to lawsuits. And a nurse is always a nurse, whether employed or not. Every RN should possess her or his own professional liability coverage."
"Obtaining professional liability insurance is a low-cost measure to protect your license," said Diane K. Salerno, NYSNA labor educator. "This is one issue in which RNs really need to rely on themselves."
Common misconceptions about professional liability insurance:
"I'm already covered by my employer"
A healthcare facility need not carry professional liability insurance for RNs. The fact that a healthcare facility provides liability coverage for employees doesn't necessarily mean you will have coverage now or in the future. This is why it's important for you to obtain your own policy. You may not be covered by your employer in all instances:
The policy may cover the facility, but not individual employees.
It may have gaps in coverage. If you take a job with another facility, the policy won't cover you for an incident that may have occurred on your previous job. If you are out of work, the policy may not cover you for an incident that occurred when you were still employed.
If a facility merges with another, closes, or goes bankrupt, the policy may no longer be in effect; the facility may fail to make a payment on the premium and lose its protection; and
the policy may not cover you if you practice nursing at places other than your facility. To make sure they know where they stand, it's a good idea for RNs to ask their employers for a copy of their facility's policy.
"I don't have many assets in my own name"
Nursing malpractice suits can take years to settle. Even if you do not currently have assets in your own name, you may in the future, as you build a bank account or an investment portfolio or buy a home. If assets are jointly owned, they may not be completely immune from being used to satisfy a spouse's legal obligations.
An individual professional liability policy may protect whatever assets you may have against potentially large legal expenses and liability you may incur as a result of a malpractice claim. Even if you believe you don't have - and won't have - any assets which need protection, professional liability coverage may provide for your legal defense should you be involved in a malpractice lawsuit, and compensate the injured party if you are found negligent.
"I won't be sued because I don't have malpractice insurance"
If you have any connection with a patient who makes a claim against your employer, you will most likely be named a party to the suit. You can even be sued in a circumstance where you contend you have not had contact with a patient who makes a claim against your employer.
A lawyer for an injured plaintiff normally will sue everyone connected with a malpractice incident. If not, the lawyer may be sued for legal malpractice.
How can you obtain insurance?
If you don't yet have professional liability insurance, here is how you can get started.
NYSNA endorses the Nurses Service Organization (NSO) and works directly with them to provide the best possible coverage for our RNs. The NSO also provides coverage for legal defense expenses. Any RN can obtain information about this insurance through a link on NYSNA's Web site at www.nysna.org;
at NSO's Web site at www.nso.com;
or by calling NSO at 800-247-1500.
Need an Attorney?
NYSNA's Practice and Governmental Affairs program offers guidelines for selecting an attorney, and can provide a list of names, although it does not endorse anyone on that list. You can also contact your local Bar Association for information on finding an attorney who specializes in malpractice. In NY, a good place to start is the New York State Bar Association's referral line, 800-342-3661; e-mail: lrs@ nysba.org; Web site: www.nysba.org.
"Liability insurance is critical," Haebler said. "RNs are RNs 24/7, not just when they're on duty."
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