Veterinarian Malpractice Insurance | Professional Liability Insurance
The number of things that can go wrong in providing care to a patient is vast. Veterinarians often live in fear that something will go tragically wrong when working on a patient under their supervision. It is understandable that they feel this way when considering the ramifications that this might have on their career if they don’t address the issues that could lead to such outcomes.
To provide some relief and peace of mind, all industry professionals should contact a veterinarian contract lawyer to help them review veterinarian malpractice insurance documents. This is because all vets should give careful consideration to getting this kind of protection for themselves and/or their practice.
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What is Veterinarian Malpractice Insurance?
Veterinarian malpractice insurance is a policy that covers the liability that a veterinarian has if something should go wrong with a client’s pet that leads to the pet’s death or prolonged injury. Such incidents can happen even in the most well-run veterinary practices in the world, and even if everything was done strictly by all best practice procedures. This is why most vets are well-aware that they need coverage to keep themselves protected.
Protection Coverage is Available Through Professional Organizations
The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA) partners with an insurance provider known as Safehold Special Risk to offer veterinarians malpractice coverage to keep themselves financially protected. The program offers the following coverage:
- Professional liability: $1 million per occurrence/$3 million annual aggregate
- License Defense: $100,000 annually
- Animal Bailee: $50,000 per occurrence
This is a significant amount of coverage because the claims brought against a veterinarian and their practice can be substantial. Pet owners who are distraught over the loss of their beloved pet may seek vengeance against the practice that they feel did the damage. With that in mind, the size of the lawsuit that they attempt to bring against a veterinarian may also be quite large. In some cases, lawyers are willing to advocate for pet owners who try to do this. Thus, it is a good idea to have significant malpractice insurance coverage to keep yourself protected.
Settlements for Malpractice Insurance Cases are Common, but Not Always Desired
Insurance companies are often quick to try to settle a case outside of the court system. They do so because they usually do not want to put forth the time and effort necessary to actually see a case through. The costs are higher for an insurance company when a case goes to trial, and the insurance company always wants to save as much money as it possibly can. Thus, the insurance company may take actions that are not in the best interest of their clients. That is what you need to pay particular attention to when signing up for a malpractice policy.
Veterinarians who believe that they followed every procedure as precisely as they should have may want to reach out to a veterinarian employment contract lawyer to receive additional counsel about steps that they can take next. The reason for this is that they may have a legitimate case worth fighting for in court. If they immediately give up because that is what their insurance company wants, then they may do serious reputational damage to themselves.
Reputational Damage for Veterinary Malpractice Cases
Who would ever want to take their pet to be seen by a veterinarian who is known to have been successfully sued by previous clients? No one. The public will not bother to look into the details of the lawsuit or who was right or wrong. They will immediately pass judgment on the vet that was sued, and there is literally nothing that you can do to change the mind of someone who has it set in their mind that a particular vet is terrible at their job. Veterinary Practice News reported on why settling a claim can still do harm to a vet:
However, early settlement may not be ideal for a veterinarian convinced she has followed the applicable standard of care. Countering the costs of defending against a malpractice claim, there may be a reputational cost for choosing not to defend against a claim.
Veterinarians rely on repeat business and word-of-mouth marketing from satisfied clients. If they are being bad-mouthed all around town because of a lawsuit brought against them, then their livelihood is undoubtedly going to suffer. Thus, it may be worth fighting to clear your name if a client brings a lawsuit against you, even if the insurance company is scrambling to settle it.
Protection for Veterinarians via a Qualified Attorney
Veterinarians should always seek out a qualified lawyer if they are faced with the prospect of needing to defend themselves against a malpractice claim. These animal healthcare workers are very good at the work that they do, but they need the training and expertise required to defend themselves in a court of law. In those circumstances, it is necessary to hire someone with specialized training to handle your case. Lawyers that work on veterinary law cases are extremely valuable in these situations.
They can help with:
- Understanding the nature of the claim brought against you – Will help you see precisely what you are being accused of by your former client.
- Working through the details of your insurance policy – If you hold malpractice insurance, your attorney can go through the specific clauses of your policy to ensure that your coverage will protect you.
- Navigating the legal system – Court processes are often prolonged and dragged out. Laypeople do not understand the various procedures that they will have to go through in order to achieve resolution in their case. However, a qualified attorney can certainly work with you on this.
You need this kind of backing to keep yourself from becoming overly burdened by the stress that has now been layered onto you. It is also important to take into consideration whether you have a non-compete that could preclude you from practicing within an area you want to practice in.
If you are in Arizona, and if you agree and understand that you need some assistance fighting your case, please contact us to speak with one of our seasoned attorneys about your case. We feel confident that there are actions that we can take to help you at this time.
Additional Information: Occurrence Professional Liability Insurance
What is occurrence-based insurance for a veterinarian? This is malpractice insurance. There are two common types of malpractice insurance. You have occurrence-based and claims made. But most veterinarians get their professional liability insurance through the AVMA PLIT. And that policy is an occurrence-based policy. What does that mean? An occurrence-based policy simply means a policy must be in effect when the malpractice incident occurs. With the claims-made policy, it has to be in effect when the claim is actually made. A vet could leave an employer, but then someone could sue them after the fact, let’s say a year later. And so, if that were to happen, they would need what’s called a tail policy that covers the gap in between when they leave the employer and then when the statute of limitations runs, which is just kind of how long someone can sue you for something.
And then after that date, they can no longer sue you for that. But as I said before, the AVMA offers an occurrence-based policy, which means essentially the vet is covered indefinitely for anything that happened while they were working for that employer. As far as the cost of malpractice insurance for a veterinarian, it’s extremely inexpensive compared to other healthcare professions. Just as an example, a policy with 1 million, 3 million limits, meaning 1 million per occurrence and then 3 million aggregate per year for. Let’s just say a small animal exclusive vet is $248. Extremely cost effective compared to most others. Just as an example, let’s just say you have a general surgeon physician, their malpractice per year could be 15,000. Whereas a vet in this situation is 250. The most expensive liability insurance for veterinarians is equine exclusive. And that could be what the same policy limits around 2,600 per year. So, a significant almost tenfold increase from small animal to equine. And it’s all based upon damages. Obviously, damages to a cat versus damages to a horse could be significantly different. Now, it’s rare for someone to sue a veterinarian for malpractice.
Most of the time it’s just simply not worth the time of the plaintiff’s attorney. Any time, someone decides to sue someone else for malpractice, obviously, they need an attorney to assist them with that. And then when an attorney is deciding of whether they take a case or not because almost all plaintiff’s malpractice cases are taken on a contingency basis, meaning the attorney only gets the money if they are successful in the lawsuit. And the damages are so small for most animals that it’s just not worth the time of the attorney, to be honest. However, if you had a horse and maybe a racehorse or performance horse where they could generate a lot of income and then something would happen to that, there could be a significant amount of damage and it makes a little more sense to pursue an action like that.
And that’s why the insurance for them is 10 times more expensive than for small animals. Now, if you are a vet, your employer should cover your annual premium. Your annual premium is just simply how much it costs to insure you on an annual basis. And that is not a cost that you should have to undertake. Maybe if you’re an independent contractor, it would make sense for you to pay the expenses associated with your malpractice insurance. However, if you’re working for an employer, they should pay for your underlying policy, that’s just kind of a standard benefit. And essentially it is so affordable. There’s really no argument that an employer can make that the vet should be the one to cover those costs. It just doesn’t make sense. And especially because tail insurance is not needed for a vet if they’re going through AMVA. Sometimes that’s a cost that is passed through to the provider once the contract terminates, but in this situation that just simply is not something that occurs.
So, that’s occurrence-based insurance for a veterinarian. Once again, it’s honestly a relatively small thing that would be negotiated in a contract because tail is not necessary because the employer almost always covers it. It’s better for the vet to focus on other things, I guess that’s the best way of saying it. One other tip: the AVMA also offers professional liability defense for an extremely small fee. It’s like $50 more per year. And if someone were to file a board complaint against you, you would automatically be provided legal counsel at no cost to the vet unless there may be deductible that they would be responsible for.
So, I would suggest if you are going to get malpractice insurance, which you will, that you ask the employer to pay for the extra policy that will cover any kind of board defense and if they’re not willing to pay for it, obviously, spend the 50 bucks or a hundred dollars or whatever it is, so that you’re covered for a board defense. To hire a licensing board defense attorney, I guess depending upon the severity of the case, can be anywhere between $5,000 to $10,000. And it’s just well worth the little amount per year to cover that.
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