Nursing is consistently voted the most trusted of all professions. One that involves providing medical and personal care for individuals at their most vulnerable. So, why should nurses consider carrying nursing liability insurance to protect themselves from litigation? Because we live in an increasingly  litigious society. Nurses are human, and, unfortunately, they can make mistakes. 

Upping the Odds?

Having your own policy does not increase your chances of being brought into litigation. Whether or not you—as a named defendant—have your own malpractice insurance policy wouldn’t be discovered until the lawsuit was actually filed. A plaintiff’s attorney “names multiple defendants in a lawsuit in an attempt to access additional sets of insurance limits and increase the chance for a higher settlement,” according to nurse attorney Katherine J. Pohlman, MS, RN, JD.

Look Out for Number One

The employers’ coverage protects the hospital’s liability first and foremost. Nurse employees may have protection in the case of a lawsuit, but they’d be relying on the attorney retained to protect the hospital and not a privately retained attorney hired to protect the nurse and their own interests. Under an employers’ insurance, nurses share the liability limitations (how much money is available to cover the lawsuit) with every other employee named in the litigation. And it’s possible that the award settlement may not be fully covered by that policy, resulting in potential out of pocket legal expenses for employees, including nurses. Further, the employers’ policy protection for nurses ends when that employment ends, meaning you can still be held liable even if you are working elsewhere at the time of the lawsuit.

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Is There Enough to Go Around?

There are some positions which may not be covered by an employer’s liability insurance, such as contract workers or travelers. Nurses should not assume that they are covered and should inquire with their employer. And how do nurses know what the limitations of liability are for that coverage? 

An individual policy belongs to the nurse and would clearly identify what is covered and what the monetary limitations for litigation awards would be. Most importantly, individual policies held by nurses will follow them wherever they may work, even if they are a travel nurse or self-employed.

Unanticipated Liabilities

Nurse liability insurance can protect nurses in ways that many nurses overlook. A nurse may not even make an error or cause harm to be named in a lawsuit. A patient who perceives wrongdoing can initiate litigation that can cause financial harm to individuals who have done nothing wrong. A nurse can be utterly meticulous in their practice and documentation and still find themselves embroiled in litigation, which can cost them dearly.

Many nurses are often casually asked for health-related advice by colleagues, friends, and family members. Well-intended advice that leads to someone pursuing a course of action (or not pursuing, as the case may be) could potentially lead to perceived or actual harm. An individual policy would protect a nurse in these circumstances as well.

Board Action

Lastly, individual policies protect nurses from actions taken against them by their Board of Nursing. Legal representation in this instance would be covered by the policy as well. Many advanced practice specialty nurses would be unwise to practice without it, such as nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, and nurse practitioners. 

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Insurance provides protection. It’s why we carry homeowners and automobile insurance. Surely the annual cost of nurse liability insurance is a worthwhile expenditure in the face of the risk that nurses take when caring for their patients.

Elizabeth Binsfield, BA, RN
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