Do you have concerns about buying medical malpractice insurance? What if I told you that these concerns are most likely based on myths? They are most often exaggerated tales that are told and retold.
For nurses and other medical professionals, there are a lot of misconceptions and myths about medical malpractice insurance.
So Berxi went to the source: nurses. Using survey and interview responses, Berxi identified six of the most common myths nurses have heard about medical malpractice insurance. The results? The majority of nurses have been misled about malpractice policies.
As an attorney, I’ve defended numerous nurses and other medical professionals in medical malpractice lawsuits. Below, I give my perspective on the myths Berxi identified, based on my experience evaluating insurance coverage and defending clients in malpractice cases.
Which of these medical malpractice myths have you heard before?
Myth 1: I’m More Likely to Be Sued if I Have Malpractice Insurance
Fact: There Is No Way for a Patient or Anyone Else to Find Out Who Has Insurance
No database or list exists that identifies nurses who have malpractice policies and those who do not. This means that the patients and any attorneys who represent them cannot access information about whether you have an individual policy.
Most patients who sue nurses also sue the nurses’ employers and rely on the employers having an insurance policy that provides coverage for the nurses. The attorneys do not pick and choose nurses who have individual policies and target them to be defendants.
Additionally, unless you tell your employer, it will not know that you have an individual or a supplemental policy.
Myth 2: I Don’t Need Malpractice Insurance if My Employer’s Policy Covers Me
According to our research, many nurses believed that their employer's policy would provide full coverage in the event of a lawsuit. Unfortunately, that's not the case.
Fact: Your Individual Policy May Provide Coverage That Your Employer’s Policy Does Not Provide
Many employers offer nurses coverage under their medical malpractice insurance policies. This is a great benefit, but that coverage may differ from the coverage provided by your individual policy for several significant reasons:
1. You Might Need Extra Funds
If you are found liable and a jury orders you to pay damages to the plaintiff, then your employer’s policy can pay up to its limit. If there is a difference between what your employer’s policy pays and the damages awarded, then you are responsible for the difference. Your individual policy would likely pay the rest of the damages up to the limits of the policy.
2. Board Reviews Often Are Not Covered by Your Employer’s Policy
Many employer’s policies do not provide coverage for claims made against you to licensing boards. But your individual policy typically provides that coverage. And you’d be surprised at how many times licensing boards are involved with complaints against nurses’ licenses.
For example, in Massachusetts, if a plaintiff (in this case, the patient or patient’s family) shows a court that they have a valid claim, then the nurse is reported to the licensing board. This is based only on the plaintiff’s evidence. The nurse then has to go through the process of explaining why their license should not be in jeopardy because of the incident.
An attorney would help you respond to the complaint in a factual and persuasive manner, which could convince the licensing board to determine that your conduct did not violate your state’s licensing laws before a need for a hearing. This legal guidance would likely be covered under your individual policy.
3. Depositions Are Not Always Covered
Let’s say you are a witness in a lawsuit instead of a defendant. An attorney for one side of the case will want to take your sworn statement in deposition, and your responses will be recorded under oath.
This can be a nerve-racking experience. Their attorney will ask questions about anything that you did or witnessed that relates to the incident. Having your own attorney prepare you and represent your interests likely will help make you more comfortable with the process and your testimony. Your individual policy should provide that coverage, but the employer’s policy might not.
Myth 3: It’s Too Expensive
Fact: It’s More Expensive Not to Have Insurance
Having your own malpractice policy offers you peace of mind as you care for patients in what is a highly litigious occupation. But one lingering concern is probably how much does a policy cost?
According to Berxi, the cost for a policy (with $1MM per claim/$3MM aggregated limits of liability) for an employed registered nurse is under $87 per year.
You’ve invested a lot in your career — both in time and dollars. As in the case of the transplant nurse discussed in Myth 6 (below), a malpractice lawsuit can be financially devastating. That RN had legal bills and was responsible for $495,000 in settlement costs. While she arranged payment plans for both, she took out a home equity loan to pay the balance so she would not have anything related to the lawsuit hanging over her head. A malpractice policy would have paid this on her behalf.
Myth 4: My Employer Won’t Cover Me if It Knows I Have Insurance
Fact: If There Is Coverage Under Your Employer’s Policy, Then You Should Have the Benefit of Having Two Insurance Policies Protecting You
As noted in Myth 1, you do not need to tell your employer that you have an insurance policy. Additionally, if a claim is made against you and your employer’s policy provides coverage for you, then you cannot have your employer’s coverage taken away from you just because you have your own policy.
If you choose to use both your employer’s policy and your individual policy, here’s how they most likely would work together.
● You are named in a lawsuit, possibly with other members of the patient’s care team.
● Your employer’s policy provides you with a defense attorney. If named as part of a team, a common defense strategy will likely be created.
● Your policy also provides you with an attorney. This attorney represents only you and reports only to you. The attorney will represent your interests in any common defense strategy.
Note: Many times nurses feel like they are getting dragged along in a lawsuit that is brought against multiple parties, including their employer. An advantage of having your own attorney is that you can get more updates on the case. Your attorney also can provide you with their point of view of what is going on in the lawsuit.
● If you are found liable and need to pay a judgment or if the case settles before a trial, then one or both of the policies would likely pay the judgment/settlement (depending on the amount). You do not need to be involved in sorting this out.
Myth 5: It Takes Too Much Time to Shop for Insurance
Fact: A Quote Can Be Pretty Quick to Get
Many of the nurses interviewed by Berxi said that they knew they needed malpractice insurance, but they felt overwhelmed by the decision. As a result, buying a policy gets moved to the backburner.
That’s totally understandable. But as that lawyerly voice in your ear, I’m here to remind you just how important it is to protect yourself, your assets, and your career. So, the next time you want to play Wordle — check out Berxi’s Malpractice Comparison Chart instead.
Berxi says getting a quote – and receiving your bound policy -- takes less time than brewing a pot of coffee. So maybe next time you start a pot, you get a quote and see whether they really are that fast!
Knowing the time that nurses spend to get their degrees, to care for their patients, and to continually train on the latest procedures, five minutes seems like time well spent to protect against liability due to lawsuits and licensing board claims.
Myth 6: I Need Malpractice Insurance Only if My Job Is Risky
Fact: There Is No Risk Too Small for Insurance
In my experience, many attorneys sue every person whose name appears on the patient’s chart at or around the time of an incident. Some of my nurse-clients were sued even though they didn’t see the patient on the date of the incident.
Nurses work in all medical specialties and in all aspects of the profession. While some specialties may have more risk, there is no specialty or area of practice where a nurse has no risk.
In fact, Berxi published a story about an agency nurse who was sued for malpractice. Her job primarily involved office work, including the preparation of discharge paperwork for transplant patients. On one occasion, she recorded the wrong dose for an anti-rejection medication, which led the patient’s body to start to reject the kidney.
It wasn’t until the nurse was sued that she realized she didn’t have malpractice insurance. Why not? The hospital’s policy didn’t cover agency nurses. She didn’t ask whether she was covered because she didn’t think she had a “risky” job.
In our lives, we buy insurance for all sorts of risks that we hope we never encounter. According to data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, the number of medical malpractice payments for nurses has nearly quintupled since the early 1990s. With numbers like that, there is more risk than ever in not having medical malpractice insurance.
You’ve invested time and money in your career — it’s your livelihood, your passion, and perhaps even your calling. Lawsuits and board actions may threaten this livelihood, as they are certainly stressful and costly. Hopefully I have helped separate fact from fiction when it comes to medical malpractice insurance and having an individual policy. You now know how important individual malpractice policies are, even if it’s just for peace of mind. Don’t let a myth stop you from purchasing one. See just how fast and easy it is to get covered. Start a quote today.
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