If you are a nurse, chances are this question has crossed your mind all too often. Although many nurses in the United States are covered under a medical malpractice insurance carrier, a significant number of nurses are not. But the truth is that a nurse can be sued for medical malpractice at any time. Even if the allegations are unfounded, it can seriously damage your reputation.

Many argue that the employer’s policy covers the nurses against medical liability as well. However, you need to understand that these policies are created to protect and fit the specific needs of your employers first.

Having your own policy not only covers you but also provides peace of mind during the most stressful times of your professional life. Let’s see why you should consider having nurses’ liability insurance just like any other medical professionals. But before that, let’s discuss what medical malpractice is and how it can affect your career.

What is Medical Malpractice and How Does It Affect a Nurse?

Medical malpractice is defined as the professional negligence or wrongful act or omission by any health care provider (including a physician, surgeon, nurse, and other medical professionals) due to which the treatment falls below the accepted medical standard. This may result in minor to severe injury or even death of the patients in some cases.

A malpractice case typically has three defining factors. These are:

  • A person (the doctor, nurse, care provider, or any other medical professional) who is responsible for a duty of care
  • His/her failure to provide that care
  • Bodily damage (including injury and/or death) of the patient due to the lack of appropriate care
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To win a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff must prove that the health care provider failed to provide the accepted standard of medical care and there has been a breach of duty. In addition, the plaintiff needs to prove that the damage caused to the patient is directly related to this negligence or breach of duty.

Medical malpractice cases involving nurses can really get complicated, as they are usually the primary care providers for patients in hospitals. According to a combined report from CNA Insurance and Nurses Service Organization, there were “10,639 reported adverse incidents and claims” closed between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2014. The report analyzed and reviewed 549 nurse closed claims, out of which 88.5% were registered nurses, while the remaining 11.5% were licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses.


Closed Claims by Nurse Licensure Type

Source: Nurse Professional Liability Exposures: 2015 Claim Report Update, CNA and NSO


However, unlike surgeons and physicians, not all nurses carry nursing liability insurance as many of them largely depend on employer’s policies without realizing that it isn’t always enough.

You Need Something More Than an Employer’s Policy

As mentioned, an employer’s policy, first and foremost, protects the interests of your employer. So if you have been told that your employer’s policy will suffice in case of a medical malpractice lawsuit, it is only a fabricated truth. Chances are, they aren’t telling you that your employer wants their attorney to represent you in case of a medical malpractice lawsuit. Why? Because it is their attorney who will work for their best interests (and not yours).

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When you have your own policy, it ensures that you will have your personal attorney representation who will be working to protect your best interests and specific needs. Besides, there are certain limits of liability applicable to malpractice insurance policies. Nurses who are covered only by their employer’s insurance share their liability limits with other defendants who are also protected under the same policy. This means your legal costs (which also includes the settlement amount) are likely to surpass the shared liability limits specified under your employer’s policy, if you face a legal suit. At times, it may even result to out-of-pocket expenses.

Moreover, your employer’s policy not only fails to cover the total award but also doesn’t remain effective after job termination. There are again certain types of employment such as contractual jobs, part-time, or agency employment where you are not entitled to receive a similar kind of coverage enjoyed by a full-time nurse. In some cases, the employer’s policy does not cover your personal fees.

Worst still, your employer too may file a lawsuit against you if they think it was your faulty actions that caused the patient harm. Such incidents are not unheard of, and your employer’s policy will be terminated in such cases.

Also, it is more than likely that your employer didn’t disclose the exact clause of the insurance coverage. So before you decide to solely depend on your employer’s policy, at least be sure about the kind of coverage to which you are entitled.

But Nurses Are Still Uninsured

Although having your own individual liability insurance has its own advantages, a significant number of nurses still shy away from carrying one. They usually give a myriad of reasons for going without—and most of them are basically myths.

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For example, many believe that carrying a medical malpractice insurance will further increase their risk of being sued. This, however, holds no logical implications. How will the potential plaintiff know if you are covered under an individual malpractice insurance, unless of course you inform them voluntarily? This will only be revealed after the plaintiff had filed a lawsuit against you.

That said, you cannot overrule the fact that having an individual malpractice insurance will increase your chances of being in a lawsuit. Attorneys are likely to keep our name as a defendant(s) if they are aware of the fact that you have insurance coverage to pay for the settlements. Not having an individual liability insurance has benefited nurses in the past. Their names were often dropped out of a lawsuit as they lacked the deep pockets unlike surgeons, physicians, and hospitals.

However, it is still important for nurses to get individual medical malpractice insurance as a large number of medical complaints are being filed against these health care providers with the Board of Nurses (BON). Failing to fight the BON only means to agree to whatever restrictions they pose on their license.

Besides, your individual medical malpractice insurance covers legal fees and expenses that you need to incur when fighting against the BON. Some insurance will also cover your time lost from work and will also pay for your lodging and meals.

The Verdict?

Carrying your own medical malpractice insurance provides an added protection. This is especially applicable for nurses working in critical units and specialty areas. If you are grossly responsible for the plaintiff’s suffering and if he/she is awarded a settlement, your employer’s policy may not be enough to pay the damages and you may have to pay the compensation fully or partially. Worst still, it may drain all your saving as well as future earnings. Having your own liability insurance therefore ensures a peace of mind as you won’t be stripped of your personal savings and belongings even if you were responsible for the said medical malpractice.

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Rachel Oliver
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