By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
Most mental health counselors, psychologists, and social workers carry professional liability (malpractice) insurance policies to protect them against claims and suits for malpractice. Yet the most likely legal problem you will encounter will be that a patient, former patient or patient's family files a complaint against your professional license. You should closely examine your insurance policy to make sure you have coverage for the payment of legal expenses in defending these, and that you have a sufficient amount of coverage.
Many professional liability insurance policies provide no coverage for license defense expenses. Others provide only an insufficiently low amount of coverage such as $5,000. This is not enough coverage and you should obtain more.
The Nature of Your Patients and Clients Places You at a Higher Risk for Complaints.
Because you are dealing with patients or clients who have mental health issues or emotional problems, you are at an increased risk of having a complaint filed against you. Often patients have unrealistic expectations of what a psychotherapist will be able to achieve. Others may develop a fantasy relationship with the psychotherapist and strike out in anger if the psychotherapist attempts to end it. Often psychotherapists become involved in court proceedings such as divorce proceedings, child custody fights or competency proceedings that leave one of the parties angry and upset with the therapist. Patients or clients (or even family members or ex-family members) will strike out against the therapist by filing a licensure complaint.
However, complaints can come from anyone, including an unhappy patient, patient's family, former employer, vengeful co-worker, or disgruntled former spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc. Often the issues are complex. The legal procedures surrounding administrative complaints and administrative hearings are certainly complicated and confusing. Hiring an experience attorney is your best line of defense. However, it can also be costly.
Your professional license is arguably your most valuable asset. Yet, I am continuously surprised to learn the number of health professionals who come to our firm in serious trouble because a complaint has been filed against them.
Coverage for Legal Defense of a Professional License Is Inexpensive; but You Have to Get it Before Any Problem Arises.
If you do not have at least $25,000 in professional licensure defense coverage, obtain more. Some insurance companies have this much coverage as part of their basic policies (Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) Insurance and CPH & Associates, for example). If you do not have at least $25,000 in coverage (and preferably $50,000) contact your insurer to see if you can pay for increased coverage limits for this one type of coverage. If not, contact your insurance agent. There are stand-alone policies available from companies such as Lloyds of London.
You should have sufficient coverage to hire an attorney experienced in health law and experienced in defending licensure complaints against those in your profession. You must have enough coverage available so as to be able to afford to hire expert witnesses in your defense, if needed, and to go all the way through a full formal administrative hearing (trial) on your case if needed. $5,000 or $10,000 simply is not enough for this.
You have an extremely valuable asset that could easily produce a million dollars in income during your lifetime. Don't you think a few hundred dollars a year is worth paying to help protect it? That is why I say, "Buy professional liability insurance. Buy it now! Be sure you are covered for at least $25,000 in professional license defense expense coverage and preferably more, if you can get it. But buy it!"
Have you checked your professional liability (malpractice) insurance policy to see how much coverage you have to defend you if someone files a complaint against your license? You may be surprised if you haven't. Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
Contact A Lawyer Experienced in the Representation of Psychiatrists, Mental Health Counselors, Social Workers, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists and Other Mental Health Professionals.
We routinely provide deposition coverage to psychiatrists, mental health counselors, social workers, licensed marriage and family therapists and other mental health professionals being deposed in criminal cases, negligence cases, civil cases or disciplinary cases involving other health professionals. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing psychiatrists, mental health counselors, social workers, licensed marriage and family therapists and other mental health professionals in investigations at the Board of Psychology, Board of Medicine, Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling, and the Board of Nursing.
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About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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