Malpractice Insurance: Myths That Damage Nursing Careers

When I first started working as a nurse, I was told by one of my supervisors to look into malpractice insurance immediately. I balked at first. Why should I need malpractice insurance? I was a good nurse, I was smart, and I was honest. I certainly wouldn’t do anything that would put my patients in danger.

But then I had to really consider it. After all, didn’t I drive to work in my insured car? Didn’t I sleep each night in my apartment with renter’s insurance? Even my own health is insured! Why, then, would I choose not to insure my most valuable asset: my job? I had heard horror stories of nurses and doctors being sued for malpractice, but surely they had done something wrong, right? Well, not always. Like with car accidents and house fires, sometimes things happen that are beyond your control that can affect you.

I’m sure I’m not the only nurse that was wary about purchasing malpractice insurance. With myths and rumors that abound, it can be hard to make the right decision. But I’m here to clear up some of the misconceptions surrounding the need for insurance as a nurse and hopefully you will make the right decision, too.

Myth #1: Having malpractice insurance makes me more likely to be sued.

The reasoning behind this myth is that simply having a malpractice insurance policy makes nurses a target for being sued. This is absolutely false.

First of all, the reasoning is quite faulty. When you are driving, do you intentionally crash into people because you have insurance? No, of course you don’t! And no one crashes into you because you have insurance, either. In reality, insurance is protection against what could go wrong, not a reason to make things go wrong.

Secondly, unless you tell all of your patients or their family members whether you have insurance or not, there is simply no way of knowing that and taking advantage. When a lawsuit occurs, whether or not the defendant has insurance or not is not a deciding factor.

The truth of the matter is that having insurance might not cause a lawsuit, but it could keep you involved in one. If the plaintiff’s attorney discovers that you do have insurance, they may try to keep the case going, since there is insurance to pay for any settlements that are reached by the parties or the court.

It used to be that not having insurance meant you were sometimes let off the hook, lawsuit-wise. Without insurance, most nurses didn’t have the capital for a big payout to the plaintiff, so attorneys would often drop the suit, especially if it didn’t seem worth their time to continue. Now, however, most attorneys will keep a suit going whether or not there is malpractice insurance. If they can get any money, they will try. Furthermore, nurses’ salaries are much higher than they used to be so there is more of an incentive to keep going with a lawsuit. Regardless, owning malpractice insurance doesn’t make you more likely to be sued, but it also doesn’t make it less likely.

Myth #2: My facility’s insurance covers me for any malpractice lawsuits.

When you begin working at a hospital or clinic, you should make sure you understand that facility’s insurance policy and how it relates to individual employees. You should know what the coverage amount is, what its limits are, and whether it is enough coverage for your needs. Once you know what your facility’s coverage is like, you’ll probably notice that it isn’t as encompassing as you would like. If you are working through an agency, for example, the facility’s insurance won’t cover you at all, since you aren’t technically an employee of the facility itself. The insurance will most likely not provide legal representation if you come under a lawsuit, which means you’re on your own to find an attorney.

The problem with relying on a facility’s insurance is that the policy is meant to protect the hospital or clinic and not the employees. This means that if you are being sued by a patient, your hospital is only looking to protect itself; they don’t necessarily care (financially) if they lose you as an employee or not. Another concern is that if someone sues the hospital due to your (or another nurse’s) negligence or mis-actions, the hospital can then sue you to recover costs. They certainly won’t provide coverage for you against their own case.

Myth #3: Insurance is only for bad nurses.

You are probably a great nurse! But unfortunately, even great nurses like yourself occasionally get sued or reported to the Board of Nurses. Sometimes it just happens. When it does happen, the nurse being sued is responsible for finding and paying for their attorney and court costs. These can add up quickly and become very expensive.

If you have malpractice insurance, however, these costs will often be completely covered. You’ll have the luxury of removing some of the worry you may feel over the case by knowing that you don’t have to pay out of pocket for legal representation. In addition, you won’t have the added worry of wondering if the settlement offered by the Board of Nurses is fair. Without insurance, you are completely responsible for the settlement costs; but if you have insurance, you don’t need to negotiate down the cost of the settlement, or even worry about taking the case to an official hearing if the settlement is too much.

In the event that you are sued but not found guilty of negligence, you’ll escape the need to pay the settlement. However, you’ll still have those pesky legal fees and court costs you have to pay for. And if the case drags on, or if you aren’t allowed to work while the suit is happening, you’ll rack up a ton of costs in time missed from work and other related expenses. Most insurance policies will cover all these added costs, even including lodging and meals if the suit takes you away from home.

Final Thoughts

In the end, after listening to my supervisor,  I did buy the insurance. And while I’ve never had to use it, it makes me feel a whole lot better knowing that I am protected if something happens.

Even as an outstanding nurse, you, too, will still want to purchase a malpractice insurance policy. Don’t think of it as an admission of lack of skill or think it makes you a liability. Instead, realize that it is similar to health, auto, and renter’s insurance: protection against things that are out of your control. It is definitely worth the added expense.