Many times nurses are not named individually in a lawsuit; it is their employer. The employer has an obligation to defend you and cover you for any of your actions as long as you were acting within the scope of your employment at the time of the alleged malpractice. If you did something outside the scope of your employment such as stealing from a patient or, as an absurd example, having sex with a patient, these clearly would be outside the scope of your responsibilities and would not be covered by your malpractice insurance.
A benefit for having your own malpractice insurance gives you the right to have your own attorney. That's an extremely valuable benefit when your interests are at odds with those of your employer.
Another benefit for having your own insurance is that certain policies cover you for "disciplinary defense." This means that if you have an action filed against your license, you may be entitled to reimbursement for the attorney fees spent in your defense. Mind you, depending on the attorney, you may need to pay those fees up front but will get some or all of the fees back.
Most malpractice insurance policies are called "excess policies" which means that they don't come into effect until coverage with your employer is exhausted but again, you have the right to have your own attorney.
There are downsides too for having your own malpractice insurance. If you are in a state that has a cap on damages and your insurance coverage is not covered by the cap, you may have more potential to be named in the lawsuit for the extra coverage.
But, let's say that your state does not have a cap, having your own insurance coverage may subject you to being named individually as a defendant in an action because of the additional insurance coverage.
So, the choice is yours as to whether you buy malpractice insurance. The cost is relatively low. However, being one who appears with clients before licensing boards, I hear repeatedly from nurses that they never thought they would get in trouble with the Board. Yet every day, I have clients who have complaints filed against them with the Nursing Board. Having malpractice insurance with disciplinary defense coverage would then be invaluable in these cases.
By Lorie A. Brown, RN, MN, JD, Nurse Attorney representing nurses before the licensing board and founder of Empowered Nurses. Empowering Nurses at the bedside and in business.
Be sure to check out more from the first issue of allnurses Magazine.