The Bureau of Justice published a staggering statistic on the monetary awards from successful claims by plaintiffs with regard to medical malpractice in 2005. It was recorded that the awards were 17 percent higher than the median award in other tort trials. These high awards could easily exhaust the financial assets of a medical professional as they could amount up to millions of dollars in damages in some cases (e.g cerebral palsy). However, the advent of medical malpractice insurance coverage and lawyers specialized in the field have helped to lighten not only the financial worries but also the sometimes bad reputation and complex nature that come with lawsuits against healthcare professionals.
What Is Medical Malpractice Insurance?
Medical malpractice insurance also known as medical professional liability insurance is a type of professional liability cover or insurance policy which protects licensed health care specialists or professionals such as physicians, nurses and surgeons from personal liability related with wrongful or negligent practices done or undone, which resulted in personal injury and/or medical expenses to patients. It seeks to protect the health care professional from eventual liability in the event of a claim for personal injury resulting from professional medical negligence.
What Does Medical Malpractice Insurance Cover?
Medical malpractice insurance covers a wide range of liabilities that doctors and other health practitioners may face arising from the treatment or incorrect treatment of patients under their care. Liability coverage can exist to provide for costs arising from the legal fees of the lawyer, arbitration costs, court costs, settlement costs, medical expenses, court awarded damages, punitive damages and other costs that may arise as a result of this liability..
However, medical malpractice does not cover costs or liabilities that result from criminal acts, sexual misconduct, and inappropriate alteration or falsification of medical records.
Types of Insurance Policies?
Basically, there are two types of medical malpractice insurance:
1. Occurrence Policies
This policy covers for any claim that arose out of an event that occurred while the policy was subsisting. This means that when an event happened while the policy was in operation, but the suit was filed after the policy lapsed, the insurance would still cover for it. Some insurance companies provide for a “tail” coverage that extends for a period of time (e.g. 3 years) so as to cover for claims made after the policy has abated.
2. Claims-made Policies
This covers just for the period in which the policy was in existence when the treatment was done and if the suit was filed within such time too.
Occurrence coverage seems to be the more popular type of malpractice insurance as it provides coverage for claims that arise when the medical professional retires or changes insurance policy. This prevents a backlash (personal liability) on the medical practitioner after the policy has expired provided the injury acclaimed occurred during the period the policy was in existence. This proves as an advantage over the claims-made policy which covers for the period it is active.
Options for purchasing an insurance policy:
- An individual policy
- A group policy purchased through a medical risk retention group (RRG)
- A firm policy purchased by the medical organization and employer (this is very popular)
- Government insurance policy for liability of medical employees against liability claims e.g. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Who Pays for Malpractice Insurance?
In a group setting, the hospital or clinic may provide its employees with coverage and foot the entire bill for the premiums or contribute a percentage. However, as a medical professional, it is necessary to get a medical malpractice insurance or pay an extra premium to secure individual coverage.
The Relevance of Professional Liability Insurance
The importance and merits of getting a medical malpractice insurance cannot be understated. Some of them include:
- Guarantee of financial protection
When a lawsuit is filed against a physician or health care professional, it is most likely he or she will be thrown off balance both emotionally and psychologically. It may take a lot of courage to keep up spite for the work and maintain professional standards without making more mistakes. In the event that he is found liable, the financial effects set in properly. Having an insurance coverage covers a lot of these worries and effects.
- Provision of capable legal representation
The insurance coverage always comes with legal and investigation personnel. The insurance provider secures the services of an experienced attorney on behalf of the practitioner for best results and investigative analysis.
- Payment of fees and other costs
The fees of the medical malpractice lawyer are covered by the insurance policy, costs of investigation, filing court processes and all other incidental costs.
- Payment of damages
The insurance policy undertakes to pay the damages awarded against the defendant medical professional or hospital in the event of a successful claim. This offsets to a large extent, the degree of financial loss the hospital or personnel may have had to face.
The Role of a Medical Malpractice Attorney
A medical professional may then wonder why he needs the services of a medical malpractice attorney since the insurance company provides one in the event of a claim. Here are some of the reasons you actually need an attorney:
- Complex nature of medical law
Medical law is a special branch of the legal field that involves in issues linked responsibilities of health care professionals and the rights of patients. This involves a whole lot of details on points of law, facts, expert and non-expert witnesses and reliable evidence. This may prove way too much for a medical professional to handle on his own at the preventive or initial stages. To prevent devastating lawsuits at all or do damage control, consistent services of a lawyer may be required to offer legal advice before, during and after the attorney from the insurance company even steps in at all.
- Selecting the best insurance policy
Different healthcare professionals require different insurance policies. Combing through the legal format and clauses may be too cumbersome for an untrained person to assess. Not taking cognizance of the strict terms of the policy or understanding them may prove fatal in the event that the insurance provider declines eventual liability because the terms of the policy were breached. There is a lot to insurance policies than just paying premium. You will need a lawyer to help you find the most suitable policy for your line of work and help you understand the terms of contract.
- Choosing the best premium
Medical malpractice lawyers are well familiar with the terrain. A lawyer can easily help you find a policy with the most competitive premium rates than you can easily find yourself. Also, he can be better trusted to do the job than an insurance broker.
- Advisory role and collaboration
As a personal or official lawyer of the defendant personnel or hospital, it is incumbent on the lawyer to provide qualitative advice in respect of malpractice insurance. Also, they work with better inside knowledge of affairs than the insurance provider attorney and their collaborative services will prove very valuable in the circumstances.
- Reputation and concentration
Usually, when a medical professional is being sued, the monetary liability may be the least of his worries. This is because the most damaging story about him and his medical track record can be published in a matter of minutes from the filing of the lawsuit and seen by millions in a matter of days. However, an experienced medical malpractice lawyer can reduce such damage through the kind of information he releases in response and the professional manner of dealing with such publicity. You need information on your acquittal out there and not that of your guilt or claims against you let alone charges for reputation sake and for confidence.
A lawyer helps you to determine whether it is more advisable to quickly settle or not depending on the circumstances. In opting for settlement, due to the professional training and experience, he is better equipped to handle negotiations and avoid being bullied or blackmailed due to the bad publicity into an unfavorable agreement for the defendant.
As a medical professional, it is more likely than ever before in the history of the medical profession that you or a colleague you know may have been sued for medical malpractice. It is completely important you get a medical malpractice lawyer to help you prevent or handle a medical malpractice lawsuit to avoid being cheaply exploited, soiled or bullied into an unfair agreement.