MALPRACTICE INSURANCE WITH LICENSE COVERAGE A MUST FOR RESPIRATORY THERAPISTS
by Michael L. Smith, J.D., R.R.T.
A good respiratory therapist can be sued for malpractice and be held responsible for legal fees even if the RT is exonerated. That is why it's important for RTs to have their own malpractice insurance and ensure that it includes license defense coverage.
Health care providers were 26 times more likely to receive a disciplinary complaint from their licensing board than to be named in a malpractice lawsuit, according to one report. Most RTs do not lose their license in disciplinary cases, but having discipline on your license can negatively affect your career for years.
Good legal representation is expensive. The cost of defending even a simple case before a licensing board can be $3,000 to $5,000. A complex case that involves a formal hearing and expert witnesses may easily cost two to three times as much. Some RTs and other health care providers are forced to accept discipline from their licensing board in a case that was defensible because they just do not have the financial means to mount a thorough defense.
A case before a licensing board requires an attorney that specializes in license defense cases. The rules and procedures in a licensing case are not the same as cases in civil and criminal courts. A malpractice insurance policy that provides licensure defense will allow the RT to have the financial resources to seek out a health law attorney experienced in disciplinary cases.
Many RTs mistakenly believe that having their own malpractice insurance makes them more likely to be named in a lawsuit. Attorneys name individuals in malpractice lawsuits because those individuals may have contributed to the alleged malpractice regardless of whether those individuals have insurance. The attorneys rarely know what, if any, insurance anyone has until long after the suit is filed.
RTs working in hospitals may be able to rely on their employer to provide a defense in a malpractice case. That same hospital employer will probably not provide a defense for its employee in a disciplinary case.
The cost of malpractice insurance for RTs including license defense coverage is reasonable. RTs employed full time for a hospital can probably obtain a policy including license defense coverage for less than $150 per year.
RTs should know the difference between an occurrence insurance policy and a "claims made" insurance policy when purchasing malpractice coverage. An occurrence policy covers a claim that occurred during the coverage period of the policy even if the claim is made after the policy expires.
However, most malpractice insurance policies are claims made policies, which only cover claims that occur and are reported while the policy is in force. A claims made policy is generally a little cheaper than an occurrence policy, but the insured needs to buy extended reporting coverage (a tail policy) whenever they change insurance companies or drop the coverage. That extended reporting period should be based upon the statute of limitations for a malpractice claim in the state where the RT practices.
RTs should have their own malpractice insurance that includes license defense coverage. Your license to practice is too important to you and your family to go without malpractice insurance.
Michael L. Smith, JD, RRT is board certified in health law by The Florida Bar and practices at The Health Law Firm in Altamonte Springs, Florida. This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for formal legal advice.
This article was originally published in Advance for Respiratory Care and Sleep Medicine.