You’ve got health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, auto insurance, home insurance, life insurance—and if those weren’t enough, if you’re a practice owner or an independent contractor, you probably have professional liability insurance, too. But what if you’re a PT or PTA on staff at a clinic, hospital, or rehab center? Do you need your own liability insurance policy? According to Jonathan Bassett, author of this Advance article, it all “depends on whom you ask.”
For the article, Bassett sat down with two experts—Ron Scott, JD, MS, PT, OCS, an associate professor and chair of the physical therapy department at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania, and Debra Daniels, MBA, MHA, director of quality and risk services at SSM Rehab, a 100-year-old not-for-profit rehab hospital in St. Louis. While Daniels thinks purchasing individual liability insurance may do more harm than good, Dr. Scott believes it could afford PTs much-needed peace of mind.
Before we jump into what the experts have to say on the topic, though, I just have to make one thing clear. Nothing in this post is meant to be advice—legal or otherwise—except this: If you have any questions regarding your specific insurance situation, speak with your attorney.
Why You Might Want to Consider Professional Liability Insurance
Dr. Scott doesn’t give any specific instructions regarding insurance—because that would constitute legal advice—but he does feel that therapists in “all practice settings would benefit from the economic and emotional peace of mind that comes from carrying personal liability insurance.” He goes on to say that “while lawsuits against physical therapists are rare, they can and do happen”—and, if you are ever in that type of a situation, having adequate protection can be a big help.
“In a perfect world, an employer’s insurance would cover an employee 100% of the time,” Dr. Scott says. “The problem is that clinical practice does not always work that way.” In his experience, Dr. Scott has seen many instances of employee and employer “in a rally of finger-pointing” and blame-transferring, which is why carrying your own liability coverage can be really beneficial. According to Dr. Scott, it “can help defray the cost of legal representation...and provide a sense of comfort in a frightening and confusing time.”
In this Advance article, author Mike Le Postollec writes that “legal fees to defend against a malpractice suit could be as high as $500 per hour, and with professional reputations and personal aspects at stake, adequate coverage is key.” Now, he’s talking specifically to PTAs about their liability coverage, but my guess is his stance would be the same for full-fledged therapists.
Why You Might Not Want to Consider Professional Liability Insurance
Daniels believes that physical therapists who carry their own liability insurance may actually attract litigation and lead “plaintiff attorneys to be more aggressive.” She goes on to say that she has been involved in several lawsuits, and all of the defendants were dismissed except for those who carried individual insurance. She does recommend, though, that therapists who work in small practices make sure they know how much insurance the clinic carries.
So what would happen if a lawsuit were brought against an employee who did not have his or her own liability insurance? According to Daniels, it is the employer’s responsibility to cover employee’s actions “under the statute of vicarious liability.” As long as you are an agent of the organization, that organization must assume responsibility for your actions—negligent or not. As a risk manager, it’s Daniels’s job to find out if employees are named in a suit and to get them removed as quickly as possible. But, Daniels says that’s much harder to do if the employee carries a personal liability policy.
Obviously there are two sides to this much-debated coin—and no solution will be right for every therapist or therapist assistant. As Daniels says, it’s ultimately a personal decision. However, both Daniels and Dr. Scott do encourage therapists to speak with their personal attorneys or an unbiased consultant—someone who understands the specifics of physical therapist liability and, as Dr. Scott says, “the differences between occurrence, claims-made, and tail coverage”—before taking any action.
If you’re an APTA Member and you decide you want to carry your own liability insurance, you are eligible for a professional liability insurance policy through Healthcare Providers Service Organization, underwritten by the American Casualty Company of Reading, Pennsylvania. According to the APTA, this policy is designed to meet the needs of today’s practicing PTs, PTAs, and physical therapy students. It offers 24-hour protection (on or off the job), with coverage limits of up to $1 million per claim and up to $3 million annual aggregate. The policy also includes license protection coverage and full payment of covered legal costs. To learn more, click here.
In terms of additional resources, the APTA has a book available that might be worth checking out: Law & Liability Part 1: Liability Issues. And Kathy Lewis, PT, JD, wrote this PT in Motion article about evaluating insurance contracts.
How do you feel about professional liability insurance? Is it worth it? Tell us your opinion in the comments section below.