As a medical professional, there may be a time in your career when a mistake happens. If it does, there’s a chance you could be sued. In fact, about 17,000 Americans file medical malpractice lawsuits each year. One of the only ways to make it out financially intact is to have malpractice insurance. And it’s not just doctors that need to protect their assets, nurses, and anyone else in the health field, should consider getting a policy as well.
Medical malpractice insurance protects medical professionals in the event that they’re sued by a former patient or their family. If something goes wrong during a patient’s care, lawsuits can be financially detrimental to your career. And if you think nothing ever goes wrong, unfortunately, that’s not the case. According to Scientific American, About 98,000 people die each year due to medical errors in hospitals. While medical malpractice is required by law for many doctors, that’s not always true for nurses. However, it’s often highly encouraged that nurses, no matter their specialty, also purchase malpractice insurance.
What do nurses get sued for?
If nurses predominately answer to doctors, what exactly do nurses get sued for? Good question. A few reasons include:
- Failing to follow the acceptable standards or care
- Failing to monitor a patient's health correctly or in a timely manner
- Failing to communicate a patient's health correctly to supervisors
- Failing to use medical equipment correctly
Your exact coverage will depend on how much you’re looking to pay and the insurance company you choose, but in general, you’ll find the following in many standard malpractice insurance policies:
Liability coverage is the big one that you really need. This is what will protect you from any errors you make while practicing. Many policies come with up to $1 million in coverage for any events named in your policy.
Your medical license is vital to your job. In the event that you have to go up against a medical board, this type of coverage can help you pay for a defense.
If you end up in court, defense attorney coverage can help you afford a personal lawyer. Plus, many insurance companies will cover these costs whether you win or lose the case.
HIPAA violation coverage
If you’re found to have violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you may be subject to fines or penalties, which your insurance can help you cover. Plus, this kind of coverage also pays for the cost of notifying any patients of these violations.
Personal injury coverage
If, while doing your job, a patient claims you’ve verbally or physically injured them, this coverage can help you cover the claim.
There are two types of nursing malpractice insurance: claims-made and occurrence policies.
Claims-made policies offer coverage only when you have a policy in place and are paying premiums. So, if you had a claims-made policy for 2021, but not for 2022, any claims made in 2022 will not be covered by your insurance policy.
Unlike claims-made policies, occurrence policies cover any incidents during your policy, no matter when a claim is filed. For example, if you held an occurrence policy between 2010 - 2015, if the issue named in the claim happened during those years you’d be covered, even if the actual claim wasn’t filed until 2017.
Anyone who practices in the nursing field, or the medical field in general, should at least consider a malpractice insurance policy. If you work in one of the following fields, malpractice insurance can help you keep your job if anything should happen.
- Nurse Practitioners
- Physical Therapists
- Licensed Practical Nurses
- Yoga Instructors
- Personal Trainers
- Physician Assistants
- Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs)
- Registered Nurses
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it helps prove the point that anyone who is in a career even remotely related to medicine can benefit greatly from malpractice insurance.
What about nursing students?
If you’re a nursing student who works with patients, you may also want to get malpractice coverage, since you’re still at risk of getting sued. It may also be required by your university. Luckily, policies for students are even more affordable than those for practicing nurses. You’ll likely only pay about $35 each year for coverage.
While malpractice insurance covers some of the more unpleasant aspects of your nursing career, there are a few incidences that your insurance company just won’t cover. Any illegal activities won’t be covered, nor will you be covered if you’re simply dishonest and lie to your patients. In addition, most insurance companies will not cover anything related to sexual misconduct and any legal action needed because of it.
As with any type of insurance, every person’s premium will differ based on coverage needed, your personal details, and your specific job. Generally, however, nursing malpractice insurance policies are very affordable. With a $1 million liability policy, many nurses can get a policy for around $100 per year.
Whether or not nurses need malpractice insurance is a heavily debated topic in the nursing community. There are a few myths going around that help perpetuate this debate.
Your employer will provide comprehensive coverage
Hospitals will have their own malpractice insurance, but that’s mostly designed to cover the hospital in the event of a lawsuit, not necessarily nurses and physicians. That’s why an additional policy can offer you the protection you need. As for nurses working in private practices, you’ll definitely want to get a malpractice policy. Even if you work for a doctor or a small practice, chances are they don’t have as in-depth of a policy, as they can get expensive quickly. .
Doctors are the ones who get sued, not nurses
Many people both in the medical community and outside of it naively believe that only the attending physician or the hospital itself will be sued if there’s an issue with patient care. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Depending on the course of care, everyone involved may be a part of the lawsuit. Nursing malpractice suits are often expensive as well. Registered nurses who are subject to malpractice claims pay about $200,000 on average. Without insurance, that’s a significant amount to pay out of pocket.
Making a mistake is the only way you’ll be sued
While frivolous lawsuits aren’t as rampant as you may believe, they do happen. And, even if you weren’t directly involved in an incident, a patient may still name you in a suit. If that happens and you don’t have malpractice insurance, you’re on the hook for any legal action you need to take.
Christopher Murray received a B.A. in English Literature and Gender Studies from Smith College. He now lives in Maine with his husband where he spends his free time watching reruns of The X-Files and dreaming of traveling in a refurbished VW Bus while writing the next Great American Novel. Chris has extensive writing and editing experience across a range of industries, but with a specialty in personal finance and investing.